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Assam caught in 'foreigners' trap

The Assam machinery will stare at a logistical nightmare should even five per cent of the 40 lakh-plus people whose names have not been included in the final draft NRC eventually turn out to be foreigners.

By Our Bureau in Guwahati
  • Published 31.07.18
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Guwahati: The Assam machinery will stare at a logistical nightmare should even five per cent of the 40 lakh-plus people whose names have not been included in the final draft NRC eventually turn out to be foreigners.

Figures currently available tell a story of their own: According to the Assam government's records, of the 79,000 persons declared foreigners by the tribunals since 1985, as many as 42,000 have gone missing while nearly 30,000 were pushed back.

More than 100 have been deported to Bangladesh while nearly 1,000 are lodged across six detention camps in jails at Goalpara and Kokrajhar in lower Assam, Tezpur, Jorhat and Dibrugarh in Upper Assam and Silchar in south Assam's Barak Valley.

"Pushed back" refers to declared foreigners being taken to the border and sent back across it while deportation includes an official understanding with the foreigner's country of origin.

Another 2.01 lakh cases of suspected foreigners are pending in 100 foreigners tribunals. When asked in the Assembly last year, the state government could not provide information about the whereabouts of the missing "foreigners".

The Centre recently approved a new detention centre, with a capacity to house 3,000 people, at Matia in Goalpara district on 20 bigha of land at an estimated cost of Rs 47 crore.

Asked "what is to be done with 40 lakh foreigners?", major political parties shied away from the question.

Debabrata Saikia, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said "The Centre has to deal with the matter according to the rules. I have nothing to say." His father Hiteswar Saikia had become chief minister of Assam soon after the Nellie massacre in February 1983. The Congress at that time often denied the existence of foreigners in Assam.

The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) insists that declared foreigners must be deported.

Senior cabinet minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, reacting to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's allegation that the NRC update was a political exercise that had singled out Bengali and Bihari people, said, "West Bengal is most welcome to take and keep all the people who are declared foreigners. Assam has done its best and accepted foreigners till March 24, 1971. Foreigners will now have to be deported. Bengal can take them now but it cannot be like this that they keep them for two days and send them back on the third."

Former director-general of Assam police Hare Krishna Deka said it was not practical to detain or expel foreigners if the number was huge.

He said the Centre should have a special provision in the Foreigners Act to accept them as "resident foreigners" without political rights like it did with the Tibetan refugees.

Deka now leads a campaign against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.