When it comes to implementing key provisions of the Assam Accord, the NDA government at the Centre and the new BJP-led alliance government in the State are yet to spell out clearly whether the task will be at all undertaken, and if so, how. This is where the AGP has erred in not insisting on a common minimum programme when the pre-poll alliance was being sewed up, so it is a bit late in the day for party senior Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to ask pointed questions about it recently. While calling upon the Union Home ministry to implement the Assam Accord in proper spirit and time-bound manner, Mahanta has asked the Centre whether Dhaka will agree to take back illegal Bangladeshi migrants even if they are detected. Considering that the UPA as well as the NDA governments at the Centre have been taking pains not to rock the boat with the Sheikh Hasi government facing a rising tide of Islamist violence, it is obvious that India will not push the issue any time soon. Rather, there may be a flood of Hindu Bangladeshi refugees fleeing jehadi pogrom to enter Assam and Tripura, for which the Centre needs to have a policy, Mahanta has warned. The Centre’s notification on September last year will allow such refugees to stay ‘on humanitarian grounds’, but how will their burden be shared among states? As for the Bangladeshi economic migrants already entrenched in Assam for decades, implementing clause 10 of Assam Accord remains a non-starter. This clause aimed to prevent encroachment of government land and tribal blocks and evict encroachers, but the opposite has been encouraged by successive governments here. The anti-influx platform ‘Prabrajan Virodhi Mancha’ has quoted government records to show how 77,420 bighas of land have been grabbed by Bangladeshi migrants in Sipajhar alone in Darrang district. They should have been evicted by government order back in 1994 itself, but it was never carried out. Instead, the State administration has fallen over itself to build schools, health centres, lighting set-ups and toilets for these aliens, besides making them beneficiaries of sundry welfare schemes.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Upamanyu Hazarika, whose one-man panel blew the lid off in the apex court about how porous the Indo-Bangla border actually continues to be, has commented: ‘Bangladeshi encroachers here are enjoying facilities they don’t get in their own country’. The upshot is that over 70,000 Bangladeshi migrants are now well settled in the Sipajhar tracts, with around one-third of them also in the voters list. A similar situation is developing in Mayong of Morigaon district, with Bangladeshi settlers erecting hundreds of dwellings, while the administration determinedly looks the other way. Another point Hazarika has been rightly making is that updating the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) will not make this problem go away. This is because the NRC will identify only bofide citizens, not the foreigners. What is more, a large number of Bangladeshi migrants will actually be legitimized in the updated NRC, thanks to Central governments tweaking laws and regulations concerning foreigners. Apart from granting citizenship to those who migrated here between 19 July, 1948 and 25 March, 1971, Assam will also have to accept an additiol burden of lakhs of foreigners who came in till 3 December, 2004, thanks to the amended Citizenship Act of 1986. Referring to independent studies predicting that indigenous people of Assam will become a minority between 2040 and 2061, Hazarika has called for a law to ensure protective cover for reserving land, government jobs and contracts for Indian citizens. It remains to be seen whether the Central government will have the gumption to get such a law passed. At least for the next five years, New Delhi and Dispur cannot lay the blame on each other’s door over not implementing the Assam Accord’s vital clauses relating to fencing the Indo-Bangladesh border, freeing tribal blocks and government land from encroachment and providing safeguards to the indigenous people. It is, after all, the indigenous people of Assam who asserted their existence so forcefully in the 2014 general elections and the assembly elections this year.