CAB won’t affect special provisions for N-E: Shah
Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday said the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, or CAB, will not affect existing special provisions for north-eastern states.
Shah gave the assurance while addressing the fourth Conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led political alliance of political parties of the region, after Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma raised his concerns over the Bill.
The legislation, which proposes to set new terms to provide citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, lapsed earlier this year after the BJP-led Centre did not table it in the Rajya Sabha. Now, the government wants to reintroduce the bill in Parliament. “It is good that Sangma ji publicly voiced the worries of states of the region in relation to CAB. There is a worry about what will happen to Article 371 and provisions like inner line permits [documents allowing travel to protected areas] once CAB is enacted,” he said.
“I want to clarify there’s no plan to tamper with Article 371. Even if CAB is enacted, it won’t affect provisions of Article 371, the Centre would take care of it. Nothing would also happen to the existing laws protecting your customary laws and culture,” Shah added.
Ever since the Centre, on August 5 and 6, nullified Article 370, stripping Jammu & Kashmir of its special status, activists and political parties in the North-east have expressed concern whether Article 371, which gives special provisions for states in the region, would meet a similar fate.
Shah stressed that CAB already has set a cutoff date of December 31, 2014 for those from neighbouring countries who can benefit from it.
“There is a fear over CAB as well on whether people from Bangladesh will keep coming to our region forever. Will there be an end to it or a time limit will be there? People of North-east would want to know the Centre’s view on it,” Sangma said earlier. “Will the CAB bypass state governments? There is a fear on it. We enjoy provisions of Sixth Schedule [pertaining to tribal areas]. We need to take the state governments, different organisations and communities into confidence [before bringing the legislation]. I am sure you will address these issues,” he added.
Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio and Mizoram CM Zoramthanga also expressed their concerns over CAB. While Rio said it could alter demography of the region, Zoramthanga wanted the North-east to be kept out of purview of the legislation. The conclave was attended by chief ministers of all north-eastern states, party leaders associated with NEDA, and MPs and MLAs from the region. Shah also indicated that the weeding out of illegal immigrants would not be restricted to Assam alone, amid concerns that those excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list in Assam would sneak into other states of the region. “Over 19 lakh people were excluded in final NRC of Assam [released on August 31]. There is a fear in my state that some of those excluded might enter my state, as Meghalaya shares a border with Assam,” Meghalaya CM Sangma said.
In response, Shah asserted that no such thing will happen. “All states of the region, and especially Assam, have expressed concern about NRC. While in Assam, there is a feeling that many genuine Indians have got excluded, smaller states of the region are worried that those left out might come to their states. I want to assure all that no single infiltrator would remain in Assam or will enter other states. Our intention is not to rid only Assam of infiltrators, but to free the entire country from them. There is a plan for it and to implement it we will take all states into confidence,” Shah said.
Later reacting to Shah’s comments, Congressman and leader of opposition in Assam assembly Debabrata Saikia said: “The BJP may claim to have expanded its footprint all over northeast. But in most states, it rode on back of other parties to be part of government. It is only in Tripura where they came to power securing a majority on its own. Most of the work that has happened in northeast in past has been due to Congress government. BJP’s claims of development in the region are only for public consumption. But even the public realise the truth of it.”