Dhaka’s drive to eject Northeast rebel leaders remote-controlling terror in India from Bangladesh has fuelled the inevitable – the issue of repatriating 41 lakh Bangladeshis staying illegally in Assam.
Intelligence agencies have warned of possible United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) stikes on Bangladeshi settlements in Assam following Dhaka’s “betrayal” of the outfit’s chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and his associates.
Almost simultaneously, the Opposition turned the heat on Tarun Gogoi’s Congress-led government seeking expulsion of illegal Bangladeshis and plugging of holes in fencing along the 4,096 km Indo-Bangladesh border.
The government scotched allegations it was going slow on detection and deportation of illegal migrants, particularly from Bangladesh. “The main hurdle is Dhaka’s reluctance in recognizing these illegal migrants and taking them back in,” said Revenue Minister Bhumidhar Barman while replying to Asom Gana Parishad’s Alaka Desai Sarma and Ramendra Narayan Kalita.
According to Barman, officials across Assam detected 10,597 foreigners between 2001 and October 2009, but only 105 of them were deported. “Most of the others are missing while a few are spread across 54 lock-ups and prisons across the State,” he added.
The revenue minister admitted the government was yet to establish detention centres for illegal migrants in areas bordering Bangladesh. “Non-availability of land has prevented us from establishing a centre each at Mahisashan (in southern Assam’s Karimganj district) and Mankachar (western Assam’s Dhubri district), so we have with effect from December 1 this year notified Goalpara (western Assam) District Jail as the temporary detention centre,” he said.
There are an estimated 41 lakh aliens, almost all Bangladeshis, in Assam. The figure is on the basis of a report former Assam Governor SK Sinha had submitted to New Delhi in 1998.
In order to stop the influx of Bangladeshis, the Centre had in 1987-88 begun fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border. Ineffective of this fencing forced the government to go for double-barbed wire fencing by the turn of this millennium. The work is expected to be over by March 2010.
Apart from National Buildings Construction Corporation, Assam’s Public Works Department was entrusted with fencing 153.553 km of the border in the first phase. In the second phase, the latter was given a 32.665 km stretch. “Only a 1.338 km portion remains,” said Barman, adding approaches to bridges across border water bodies were delaying the work.
The issue of Bangladeshis had sparked the six-year Assam Agitation in 1979. The ULFA was its byproduct.
The agitation ended with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985. But in 1983, the government had enacted the Assam-specific Illegal Migrants (Detection by Tribunal) Act which was loaded in favour of migrants. The Supreme Court scrapped this contentious Act, paving the way for detection and deportation of aliens under the Foreigners’ Act.