States agree to identity cards - Drive to flush out illegal immigrants

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  • Published 7.01.03

New Delhi, Jan. 7: Swivelling the spotlight back on foreigners overstaying in India, the Centre today obtained concurrence from states on issuing citizens’ identity cards and announced the launch of a three-month drive from April to flush out illegal immigrants.

The multi-purpose identity cards will be issued on the basis of a proposed national citizens’ register.

A pilot project for the identity cards will be launched in specific areas in 13 states, including Bengal, Assam and Tripura, which have a sizeable number of immigrants from Bangladesh. If the finance ministry releases Rs 14 crore needed for the preliminary round covering 28.5 lakh people, the identity card project will get off the ground on April 1.

The consensus on the identity cards emerged at a national conference of chief secretaries and directors-general of police, where deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani launched an offensive against foreigners overstaying in India.

“There is no reason why our states should be soft on them. Immediate steps should be taken to identify them, locate them and throw them out,” Advani said.

The deputy Prime Minister, who is also in charge of internal security as Union home minister, voiced concern “over 11,500 Pakistanis and 1.5 crore Bangladeshis illegally staying in India” and directed state governments to launch a special drive to “detect and deport them as they posed a serious threat to national security”.

The Centre wants the special drive to begin in April and continue till June, but sources said states like Bengal, which had earlier expressed reservations against such operations, have not yet agreed to the proposal.

A similar drive a few years ago in Maharashtra targeting illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had stirred a controversy. Several political parties and human rights organisations had then alleged that the flushout was being misused to harass the minority community.

But home secretary N. Gopalaswami today sought to allay such apprehensions, saying nodal officers would be appointed to monitor the special drive.

Estimates put the number of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in India at 20 million, out of which over 10 million are in Assam and Bengal alone.

The Centre has also promised to provide Rs 45 crore in three years to each district in nine states, including Jharkhand, affected by Left-wing extremism.

Advani, who had promised funds to fight Naxalites when he visited Jharkhand recently, said the Centre had decided to adopt a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the menace.

The conference also revived a proposal to set up a unit called the Federal Law Enforcement Agency (FLEA) but several states opposed it, fearing that it would encroach on their jurisdiction. The proposal was discussed last year also by the same conference but did not make any headway.

Some states contended that the CBI was already doing the job and, hence, another agency will only duplicate the work. The home secretary declined to name the dissenting states.