| People gather at Students’ Field, Jaiaw, during the public meeting on ILP on Saturday. Telegraph picture |
Shillong, Dec. 1: Congress president Sonia Gandhi landed in a chopper at Jowai in Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hills district on February 19 this year to campaign for the party ahead of Assembly elections.
Then few had expected that she would utter the words “illegal immigration”.
Reading from a prepared speech, Sonia then had said: “We are aware that much still needs to be done and many issues such as those related to immigration (need to be tackled). We are at present engaging with the Bangladesh government to stem illegal immigration. I am hopeful that we will reach a solution to the satisfaction of all sides.”
The Jaintia Hills region, which is abundantly rich in mineral resources, is one of the areas in Meghalaya where influx and illegal immigration have been seen as major problems.
A few weeks back, when Sonia went to campaign for her party at Lunglei in Mizoram, she had reportedly said: “Appropriate action would be taken to address the problem of illegal influx of foreigners through the international borders.”
Sonia also said efforts would be made to solve the boundary issues with neighbouring countries and states.
Although the inner-line permit (ILP) is in place in Mizoram, Sonia’s remarks meant that Mizoram, a state bounded with the states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur and with neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar, is grappling with influx.
From these two speeches in two different states, in a matter of about nine months, it is clear that the Congress leadership recognises the problem of influx and illegal immigration in the Northeast. The larger question, however, is about the solution to, as Sonia had said, “stem illegal immigration”.
In a statement issued here yesterday, the BSF, Meghalaya Frontier, said 99 “illegal immigrants” were detected from January until November 30 this year. Meghalaya shares a 443km boundary with Bangladesh, and over 600km with Assam. Statistics available with the Meghalaya government reveal that in 2012, 6,182 alleged Bangladeshis were detected in the state. Of them, 268 were prosecuted and the remaining 5,914 pushed back directly.
According to official statistics, in the past five years (2008 to September 2013), 18,951 Bangladeshis were “detected” in the state while 978 were “prosecuted” and the remaining 17,973 were “pushed back directly”.
The cry for introducing the ILP has not been restricted in Meghalaya alone. Manipur had also raised its voice and Assam is the latest to demand the permit regime.
Last week, Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma, who has repeatedly rejected the demand of various pressure groups to implement the ILP in the state, had said the cry for introducing the permit regime in Assam could be because of the larger ramifications of illegal immigration in the neighbouring state. “You have to critically analyse why this demand is coming up in Assam. Why Assam feels that it should be a state under ILP,” Sangma had said.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has demanded introduction of ILP in Assam to regulate and check inflow of outsiders to the state.
The identity of indigenous communities is already at stake as people keep migrating legally and illegally into the state from other parts of the country, including from Bangladesh. Sangma had said it might be that AASU had gone into the principal act of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, where the law was applicable in many districts of Assam like Kamrup, Nagaon, Lakhimpur and Cachar, among others.
Sangma, however, said the concern about illegal immigration here was born out of the fact that the neighbouring state (Assam) has a large number of illegal immigrants. “But if ILP is implemented in Assam and Meghalaya, then what will happen to all of us as everybody will have to take permission from every state even to cross the inter-state border,” he said. “How will they implement when Assam has such a long border with Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya?” he asked.
The ILP, currently operational in Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, regulates visit of rest of the citizens to states where ILP regime is prevalent under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. People of other states require ILP for visiting these three states.
The main aim of the ILP is to prevent settlement of other Indian nationals in the states where ILP regime is prevalent in order to protect the indigenous/tribal population.
Yesterday, a mammoth gathering of thousands of people at Students’ Field here clearly demonstrated the fact that there are people who favour the ILP to be introduced in Meghalaya.
Sangma, therefore, has miles to walk to make people concur to his opposition to the idea of implementing the ILP in the state. And as Sonia had vowed to tackle the problems of influx and illegal immigration, the Congress has the onus to come up with solutions to combat these issues.