NEW DELHI, JUNE 23: Describing illegal migration from Bangladesh as a national problem, former Home Secretary GK Pillai yesterday expressed his regret that the Government of India has been neglecting the issue of providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous peoples for so many years. Participating in a panel discussion on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), organised by ‘Axom – New Horizons’ at the India International Centre here yesterday, Pillai strongly advocated issuing work permits to the illegal migrants without giving them any political rights.
The discussion, moderated by Gaurav Choudhury, was joined by Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, Krishak Mukti
Sangram Samiti chief Akhil Gogoi, Supreme Court Advocate Karuna Nandy, The Hindu Resident Editor Amit Barua and Amar Asom Editor Prasanta Rajguru, among others.
The discussion, however, witnessed divergent views on the preparation of the NRC, with some questioning the manner in which the NRC updating exercise is being conducted. Others alleged that people with documents were being labeled as foreigners and put in detention centres.
“There is a problem in Assam. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had the Indira-Mujib Pact and the Assam Accord. The problem is there. I think we need to look at those problems. There were commitments from the Government and it has to provide constitutional and legal safeguards to the indigenous peoples,” said Pillai.
“These are the issues, which the Government of India has forgotten. Between 1996 to 2001, when I was the Joint Secretary (Northeast), we had started this debate on how we look at the problem, do we provide constitutional safeguard, what kinds of safeguards and such, but in 2009, when I came back as the Union Home Secretary, I realised that there was no discussion at all. In 2009 we again reopened the whole issue and started setting up committees,” he said.
The burden is not only on the State of Assam, because the issue of illegal migration is a national problem and how the rest of India can bear the burden of the illegal migrants, Pillai said.
About work permit, he said this is something on which a decision has to be taken at the political level. “You have to have all-party meetings and evolve a consensus on the issue. As it is a political issue, you have to find a political solution,” he said.
Asked about the present situation, Pillai later told newsmen that the first thing is to ensure that a panic situation is not created. “Thereafter, the Government must come out and say that for the next 3 years or so, we are not going to deport anybody. Everybody can stay in their home and we have got the list and are trying to find a political solution. The Government of India and Government of Assam and other States need to meet and take a decision to resolve the issue once and for all,” he said.
“I think we have to give them work permits. The question of deportation is almost impossible. In 40 years, we could deport only a few thousand people and they have managed to come back the next day through some other part of the border. So we have to find a practical solution and I think the political parties should sit down together and see how they can be given residence permit without giving them political rights,” said Pillai.
Pillai claimed that politically both Congress and BJP Governments were against work permits. They said they cannot give work permit because there is so much of unemployment. Politically we don’t know whether they will do it but this is something you should start initiating a discussion on, he said.
He said people are not aware of the problems in Assam. “It is very important for us to know about the Census. Documented evidence from Bangladesh reveals that the population of Hindus in Bangladesh has come down and obviously they are gone,” he said.
“In 1996-1998, when we visited Dhaka, my counterpart said that the number of passports issued in the country is more than 200% of its population,” Pillai said.
“They have a division in Bangladesh Home Ministry, which looks at the loopholes of the immigration laws of various countries and encourage people to migrate. Partly because this you have Bangladeshi migrants everywhere,” he said.