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Assam in turmoil

Assam in turmoil

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 25, 2006

The All-Assam Students Union's threat to launch an agitation against the UPA Government's move to surreptitiously revive the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act by amending the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, reflects increasing disquiet among those who believe that Assam will continue to be the lebensraum for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants because the Congress, with an eye on the coming Assembly election, is happy to encourage the influx across the border.

Despite the Supreme Court striking down the IMDT Act last July, the UPA Government last week amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, in an attempt at safeguarding the interests of illegal Bangladeshis in Assam.

The amended clause, to be applicable only in Assam, says the tribunals will act against a complaint only if it is "satisfied that there is a prima facie case". This amendment has given the tribunals, to be headed by people appointed by the Government, enough scope for manipulations - a tribunal head could now act on his or her whims and fancies and outright reject a complaint lodged by the police against Bangladeshis. The Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, makes it mandatory for the tribunals to serve notices on the accused once a case is framed on charges of being a foreigner.

Questions are being asked as to what prompted the UPA Government to amend a clause of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, and make it applicable only to Assam. This is a clear attempt to appease the large number of Bangladeshis living in Assam illegally for their votes. The main grouse of the opponents of the IMDT Act was that the onus of proving one's citizenship rested on the complainant rather than the accused.

The IMDT Act was enacted to identify illegal Bangladeshis in 1985. The Supreme Court's verdict was in response to a long legal battle after AGP leader Sarbananda Sonowal filed a petition seeking repealing of the legislation. The court said all pending matters before the IMDT tribunals would stand transferred to tribunals under the Foreigners' Act. Taking note of the huge influx of Bangladesh migrants into Assam, the court directed the State Government to constitute sufficient number of tribunals under the Foreigners Act to deal with the situation effectively.

Under the Foreigners Act, the accused need to prove their citizenship if questioned. But with the UPA Government amending the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, the process of detecting and deporting foreigners will be as difficult as it was during the days when the IMDT Act was valid. The Assam Government is in the process of setting up 32 tribunals and they will be headed by individuals handpicked by the Congress regime.

We can take it for granted these tribunals will make full use of the new order to ensure Bangladeshis remain undetected. While this may help the Congress consolidate its minority vote-bank, the consequences of this sly move could be dangerous. Not only has the UPA Government jeopardised national security interests by pandering to Bangladeshi immigrants, it has re-ignited the fear of being swamped by foreigners among indigenous Assamese.

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