The Assam Government has no clue about the whereabouts of this huge number of foreign nationals —an overwhelming majority believed to be Bangladeshis — who had been detected as ‘illegal foreigners’ by the three-dozen Foreigners’ Tribunals in the State over the years.
According to official records, the 36 Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam detected a total of 3,83,790 illegal foreign nationals living in Assam between 1986 and 2012 (till July). However, shockingly, they have all done a disappearing act, or so the authorities concerned would have one to believe.
The figures of the Foreigners’ Tribunals further make an alarming revelation. The number of detections of illegal foreigners has been increasing every year.
While only 503 illegal foreigners were detected in 1986, a whopping 27,988 such foreigners have been detected by the Foreigners’ Tribunals in the first seven months of 2012 itself (January-July).
Assam’s Director General of Police Jayanta Narayan Choudhury said the problem lies with the Foreigners’ Tribunal Act.
“The suspected foreigners go missing as they cannot be arrested by the police till they are proved as Bangladeshis. It takes a long time — right from a case getting registered in the tribunals against any individual till they are finally confirmed as foreigners by the tribunals. The suspected people go missing, as according to the Act, police cannot even detain them for a longer period,” Choudhury said.
He also said that there is nothing that the State Government can do about this as a Central legislation is required to amend the act. Chief of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and two-time former Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta charged the Centre for inaction.
“The Government of India has not taken up the matter with Bangladesh and there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.
The detected illegal foreigners could not be pushed back due to lack of extradition treaty between the two countries. We have been repeatedly asking the Central and State Governments to trace these missing illegal foreigners and deport them,” he said.
The figures also assume significance in view of the recent change in the demographic pattern in at least six districts of Assam --- Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Nagaon, Karamganj and Hailakandi. Out of these six districts, only two districts had a Muslim majority in 1971. However, 30 years down the line all the six districts have Muslims as majority (Census 2001).
While Hindus comprised 34.80 per cent of population in Dhubri in 1971, Muslims made up for 64.46 per cent of the populace. In 2001, the Hindu population decreased to 24.74 per cent even as the Muslim population reached 74.29 per cent in the district.
Similarly, Goalpara district had 50.17 per cent Hindu population in 1971 compared to 41.46 per cent Muslims. According to the 2001 census, Hindus constitute only 38.22 per cent of the districts total population while the Muslim population increased to 53.71 per cent.
In Barpeta too, the Muslims constituted 48.58 per cent compared to 51.19 per cent of the Hindu population in 1971. In 2001, Muslims became a majority in the district with 59.37 per cent compared to mere 40.19 per cent of the Hindus. Ditto in Nagaon, where the Muslims constituted only 39.24 per cent of the population in 1971 compared to 59.57 per cent of the Hindus. In 2001 though, the Muslims became a majority in the district with 51 per cent. Hindus became a minority comprising only 47.80 per cent. Karimganj and Hailakandi districts have had a similar demographic change since 1971.
Recently, the 12-hour bandh called by the North East Students Organisation (NESO) to protest illegal infiltration from Bangladesh and demand Central Government’s immediate intervention to find a lasting solution to the burning problem drew a total response in all the seven North-Eastern States.
Justice BK Sarma of the Gauhati High Court in a judgment issued on April 21, 2011 too had said, “…in most of the cases, the declared foreigners have done the act of vanishing and the state administration is without any clue of their whereabouts. In various reports, it has been stated by the State administration that vigorous attempts have been made to nab them, but they could not be traced out. Thus, there is total failure of the State administration to nab the foreign nationals, who after invoking the writ jurisdiction of this Court, do the act of vanishing.”
In the same judgment, the court further instructed the state administration to detain suspected foreigners in detention camps so that with the closure of the proceedings and depending upon the outcome thereof, they can be deported to Bangladesh.