When it comes to protecting the huge illegal immigrant votebank and cling on to power in Dispur at any cost, successive governments in Assam have had no compunctions in shamelessly prevaricating and lying before the apex court of the land. For years on end, the Supreme Court has sternly taken the Assam government as well as the Central government to task about leaving the India-Bangladesh border open. Various lame excuses have been trotted out, many outright false statements have been made before the apex court about steps ostensibly taken to plug the gaps at the border. Governments here have lamented that unlike the border with Pakistan, India’s border with Bangladesh is difficult to guard because of riverine stretches and enclaves of one country in adverse possession of the other. Well, New Delhi and Dhaka have now begun to implement the land boundary agreement on the ground by exchanging enclaves and ratiolising the border. But all this is no guarantee that this border will stop being porous anytime soon, as illegal immigrant voters are simply too valuable to dispense with by political parties like the Congress over here. This has been brought to light again recently by the Upamanyu Hazarika one-man commission set up by the Supreme Court to study the India-Bangladesh border. Its fil report after on-the-spot study has once again laid bare the utter mockery the government has made of safeguarding the border, despite its frequent tall claims about installing barbed wire fencing and floodlights, desigting no-man’s land from the boundary to 150 metres inside, and regular patrolling by the BSF.
The Hazarika commission has now revealed that around 58 km riverine stretch of the border in Dhubri district continues to remain unfenced. There are villages like Takamari situated bang on the boundary line, through which people and cattle move freely from one country to the other. Smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh with payment being made in fake Indian currency notes is rampant across many open spaces through the border. The security features in the high-denomition counterfeit notes are so finely duplicated that they are almost impossible to detect. Cattle from Assam and parts of north and northeast India are driven daily across the border to be auctioned inside Bangladesh, with the mafia making regular payments to corrupt sections of the BSF and policemen in their payroll. As for floodlights to keep the border lit at night, the situation is ludicrous, to say the least. Many floodlights built by the Central Public Works department have not yet been handed over to the BSF because the State government is in no position to provide electricity. The few floodlights handed over to the BSF are kept lit for a couple of hours with generators before they are switched off. Whether in the Dhubri or Silchar parts of the border, the state of affairs is the same. It is therefore clear that while keeping the border porous adds to the votebank of parties like the Congress and the AIUDF, the smuggling and other illegal activities have led to the growth of many vested interests on this side of the border. As to how the unchecked tide of infiltrators from across the border first mage to encroach upon government land, reserved forests and grazing areas, then secure various documents to regularize their illegal stay and get into voters lists — are some major questions that the Upamanyu Hazarika commission has posed in its damning report. Now that the Supreme Court has got the actual picture of the situation at the India-Bangladesh border from its own panel, it will be interesting to see what stand the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government takes in the coming days, with the apex court scheduled to take up for hearing some critical issues related to the NRC update in Assam.