The Foreigner Problem

During the last few weeks, a great deal of belated attention and newspaper space has been devoted to the problem of dealing with the large-scale illegal influx of foreigners (particularly from Bangladesh). A section of the media has also highlighted what the situation was like during the period 1961 to 1966 and what it is like now. One must also acknowledge the fact that the problem was tackled much better in the early 1960s than it is done at present. Hence there is also an element of guilt complex that we have to contend with. According to available reports, the number of foreigners deported from Assam during the period 1961 to 1966 was over 1.70 lakh. But during that period the influx of foreigners was considerably less than what it has been in recent years and that the infrastructure and means available for their deportation were far less efficient than they are today. Even so, it does great credit to the administration of the early 1960s that it managed to deport over 1.70 lakh foreigners within a five-year period. In fact, the tough stand taken by the government of India in the early 1960s in this regard prompted Pakistan to issue a threat that it would approach the United Nations alleging human rights violations by India. Undeterred by this threat, the government established four foreigners tribunals under the provisions of the Foreigners Act. This resulted in the disposal of cases of foreign nationals illegally living in Assam much faster. According to a government report, “The Registrar General of Census, in his report on the 1961 census assessed that 220,691 infiltrators had entered Assam. In the light of this report of Census 1961 coupled with intelligence reports about entry of infiltrators, the police launched a drive in 1962-1964 to detect and deport such illegal migrants. By mid-1964, the State government had also set up four tribunals through an executive order to cover those cases of suspected infiltrators who claimed themselves to be Indian citizens. These tribunals were headed by special officers with judicial background who were appointed to scrutinize cases of infiltrators before issuing Quit India notices.” The report also said that during the period 1961-1966, approximately 178,962 infiltrators were either deported or had voluntarily left the country, but an estimated 40,000 of them did not leave India. The police drive, which commenced in mid-1962 against infiltrators continued but invited criticism from some leaders of Assam. That was when Pakistan threatened to drag the issue of deportation to the United Nations. A conference of the Home Ministers of India and Pakistan was held in New Delhi in April 1964 to discuss primarily the deportation issue and the need to maintain communal harmony in the subcontinent including minority protection, but the conference did not yield any substantial result. In fact, the issue of eviction of infiltrators was deliberated on by the Cabinet several times during 1964-66, and there was a general consensus in the early part of 1964 that any stoppage of deportation would seriously affect the internal situation in Assam.
What is indeed significant is that the efforts of the government of India to detect and deport foreign nationals who had illegally migrated to India (mainly to Assam), were taken very seriously right up to 1966 considering that a sizeable number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh were deported and that is sizeable number of them also chose to leave the country voluntarily because they were convinced that the administration would be successful in detecting and deporting them. The major difference in the attitude of the administration during the period 1961 to 1966 and now is that there was far greater determination to detect and deport illegal migrants from East Pakistan than there is now to deport illegal migrants from Bangladesh. It is the change in attitude of those in the administration that has seriously affected the important business of having to detect and deport illegal foreign migrants to Assam. In the half-a-century after 1966, the government has been so tolerant of illegal migrants that we now have them in Assam not in lakhs but in millions without anyone in the administration losing any sleep over this dangerous situation. What passes our understanding is that there should be such a lamentable change in attitudes among officers whose responsibility it is to detect and deport foreign nationals illegally living in Assam. One can well expect them to claim that the situation has gone out of control now. But this begs the question as to who allowed this to happen in the half-century after 1966.

Demise of Directorates

It is not without good reason that the Seventh Pay Commission has recommended the closure of some directorates of the Assam government. It is the responsibility of all pay commissions to determine what constitutes waste of public money and how such waste can be eliminated. The directorates of the Assam government proposed to be closed down are: Directorate of Historical and Antiquarian Studies, Directorate of Public Enterprise, Directorate of Small Savings, Directorate of State Lotteries, TADM (erstwhile Planning and Development Directorate), Editor-in-chief of the District Gazetteer, Directorate of Archives and Directorate of Official Language Implementation. We are quite convinced that the closure of these directorates will not, in any way, cause problems for the administration. On the contrary, the attachment of these directorates to existing departments will make for better streamlining of the government’s functioning. For instance, the Directorate of State Lotteries has not been functioning for years even though salaries and allowances have been paid. The Directorate of Public Enterprise can very well be attached to the Industries Department and the Directorates of Historical and Antiquarian Studies and Official Language Implementation can be brought under the Department of Human Resource Development. Nothing would be lost by way of efficiency. Much may be gained by way of eliminating redundant jobs paid for out of public money.