The politics over illegal migrants in Assam has become so warped that it has made an utter mockery of the official machinery mandated by law to detect foreigners. The way Foreigners tribuls in the State are functioning indicates a determined agenda of the powers-be to keep the tribuls permanently hamstrung and useless. Last year, the number of tribuls was increased from 36 to 100 to deal with increasing number of cases related to alleged foreigners. But till date, many tribuls are yet to get any infrastructure worth the me. Some continue to remain headless with still no chairperson appointed, others lack members and staff. Then there are tribuls which have no official buildings to work from. Virtually leading a hand-to-mouth existence, these tribuls are dependent on deputy commissioners to sanction funds for each and every requirement, however trivial. With such handicaps, small wonder then that 2.22 lakh cases related to alleged foreigners are pending in the Foreigners tribuls. Many such disturbing facts came out in a brainstorming session during a 2-day training programme beginning on Saturday for members of Foreigners tribuls and border SPs, organized by the Judicial Academy, Assam and the State Home and Political department. Serving and retired judges addressed the session, pointing out shortcomings galore in the process of identifying and detecting foreigners. State Chief Secretary VK Pipersenia and other top administration and police officials too candidly admitted the gaping holes in the system. More than three decades have gone by since the Assam Accord was signed after a six-year agitation against foreigners. The Central government then tweaked the citizenship law and ected the IM(DT) Act which made it all but impossible to detect and deport foreigners. It was left for Justice Ujjal Bhuyan, member of Gauhati High Court’s special bench, to point out during Saturday’s programme that though the Supreme Court struck down the IM(DT) Act in 2005, the Central and State governments still have not gotten around to transfer around 2.06 lakh cases pending with the IM(DT) screening committee to the Foreigners tribuls.
Of course, it is another matter whether the tribuls, kept deliberately toothless, will be able to do justice to the additiol load if it does get transferred some day. And what happened to the nearly 38,000 persons identified by the tribuls as foreigners? They are all evading the long arm of the law with impunity, with the State government apparently clueless and helpless. One such declared foreigner Kamaluddin with a Pakistani passport, who was deported to Bangladesh, had the gall to slip right back to Assam and contest as an electoral candidate in the Jamumukh constituency in 1996. The situation has long ago come to such a pass that politicians leading the government dare not put a figure to the actual number of Bangladeshi aliens living in Assam. Back in 1992, the then chief minister Hiteswar Saikia after stating in the Assembly that there ‘between 20-30 lakh Bangladeshi infiltrators in Assam’ — was made to eat his words when Abdul Muhib Mazumdar of his own party issued dire threats of throwing out his government ‘in five minutes’. Five years later in 1997, the then Union Home minister Indrajit Gupta stated in Parliament that there were 1 crore illegal foreigners in the country. Then in July 2004, the then UPA government’s Minister of State for Home Affairs informed Parliament that, as on December 31, 2001, over 1.2 crore illegal Bangladeshi migrants were living in 17 states and union territories, of which 50 lakh were residing in Assam. Within a week, Jaiswal retracted his statement as ‘unreliable and based on mere hearsay’, with observers attributing his volte-face to the political heat generated in Assam due to his statement. It is now high time for the Central government to hold the next government of Assam to account in properly equipping the Foreigners tribuls, and allowing the tribuls to function without undermining them slyly. The last word should go to Justice Ujjal Bhuyan who rightly commented that the problem of infiltration bears serious implications for the country’s integrity and security, and should therefore be tackled with constitutiol rather than political means.