The wretched state of our border

D. N. Bezboruah

As we all know, Assam and the other north-eastern States of India are linked to the mainland with just a 38-km wide strip of land called the “chicken’s neck” while our borders with other countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar run into hundreds of kilometres. The other very interesting and significant aspect of border maintence is that while our intertiol border on the west with Pakistan is very well guarded, the border with Bangladesh on the east is in a wretched state. For miles together, there is no border fencing at all. In some areas, where barbed wire fencing had been put up some years ago at astronomical costs, the fencing has come down, and there are huge gaps through which people and cattle can easily walk across. Most people in Assam and the other States of the Northeast have been aware of the decrepit state of this intertiol border from television footages and video clips. They have sought to reconcile their information of the miserable state of the intertiol border with frequent statements about how well the border is being maintained that our political leaders make from time to time. There is thus a deep sense of betrayal by our elected leaders. The general impression is that anyone can just walk across the border by picking an unprotected segment of it or one where the barbed wire fencing has been so completely destroyed as to constitute a joke in the me of border protection. This alarming state of border maintence had been going on for decades with the State government actually taking advantage of the situation because an open border was just what the ruling political party wanted in order to ensure that illegal voters in the form of illegal migrants would have no difficulty in coming to Assam, getting their mes entered in the voters list and ensuring a better state of existence than they were used to in Bangladesh.

As usual, whenever politicians and rulers have betrayed the people, it is the Supreme Court that has come to their rescue. On this issue too, the Supreme Court came to their rescue eventually. It pulled up the Centre and the Assam government for inefficiency by forming a one-man commission of senior Supreme Court advocate Upamanyu Hazarika to inspect the India-Bangladesh border in Assam and report back to the apex court. The court obviously felt the need to constitute such a committee after the Assam government had been “dragging their feet” in the matter of implementing the earlier order, particularly regarding border fencing, construction of border roads, night patrolling and floodlights among other matters.  Hazarika submitted his report to the Supreme Court on July 14, within weeks of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R.F.riman having entrusted the task to him.

According to Upamanyu Hazarika’s report, in Dhubri district there is no patrolling, and the border is open. In the Silchar sector, floodlights cannot be operated because of idequate electricity supply. Besides, there is no patrolling by the State police. Along the border belt of 150 metres, there are villages where people move freely between the two countries, since there are no gates or proper fencing. The commission submitted videos and documents to help the Supreme Court get a fair idea of the real state of affairs.

On receiving Upamanyu Hazarika’s report, the Supreme Court ordered the Centre and the Assam government to take immediate steps on the report like improving security, roads and floodlights on the border. It also asked the Commissioner to visit the border after two months to take stock of the measures taken by the governments after the order of July 14, 2015. This precautiory step of getting the Commissioner to verify if the Supreme Court’s orders were carried out reflects the extent of trust that the Centre and the Assam government enjoy in the eyes of the Supreme Court in the matter of carrying out its order faithfully and expeditiously. In the past, the Supreme Court had taken note of quite a few acts of defiance of court orders and contempt of court on the part of the Centre as well as the Assam government. One recalls how there was an initial act of defiance on the part of the Assam government when the Supreme Court had quashed the IM(DT) Act in 2005 and ordered the Assam government to implement the Foreigners Act of 1946 again as the immigration law for the State like the other States of India. The initial delay and defiance of the Supreme Court order had led to the Assam government being fined by the Supreme Court besides strictures being issued.

It did not take the Supreme Court very long to find out that the gaps in the intertiol border were not the only factors responsible for the large-scale illegal immigration of Bangladeshis to Assam. The large-scale illegal immigration was going on because that is how the anti-people Congress rulers in Assam wanted things to be. The decrepit state of the border fencing was just how the ruling Congress wanted a porous border to be. The number of Bangladeshis identified as such and deported by the tribuls was a fraction of the actual number of illegal migrants in the State. However, the most alarming aspect of the entire demographic scerio was that almost every person identified by the tribuls as a foreign tiol illegally living in Assam maged to disappear immediately after such identifications and deportation orders. This could not have happened without the connivance of the State government. And now, the State government is performing the ritual of publishing thousands of mes of the Bangladeshis who had been ordered by the Gauhati High Court to be deported to Bangladesh but who had disappeared. This is being done at great expense of public money even though the State government knows very well that such advertisements are not going to make a single one of the identified Bangladeshis surrender to the authorities and agree to be extradited to Bangladesh. The interesting part of the entire ritualistic exercise is that the Foreigners Act of 1946 does not stipulate the setting up of tribuls to identify and secure deportation of illegal migrants. Besides, the tribuls set up under the provisions of the IM(DT) Act that was in force for 22 years should have taught the Assam government how ineffectual tribuls were in achieving the detection and deportation of illegal migrants, since the tribuls were generally manned by retired and tired judges. Now we have a situation of tribuls having to be set up for the job even under the Foreigners Act of 1946 even though this law makes no provision for the appointment of tribuls.  The Indian tiol Congress is happy because the very need to have tribuls undertake the task of detecting and deporting illegal migrants (instead getting the job done by the district administration) slows down the process and makes the completion of the task an impossible exercise. Even so, the Supreme Court has ordered the Gauhati High Court to set up 64 additiol tribuls to the existing 36 in order to complete the job. Someone has to point out to the Supreme Court the impossibility of the task at this juncture, given the kind of sabotage that the Indian tiol Congress has been performing for years to ensure that no one succeeds in completing the task.

All in all, we have a situation that the Indian tiol Congress has perpetrated over the years because winning elections by hook or crook with the help of foreign voters in complete violation of constitutiol provisions has rated a higher priority for the party than all the norms of democratic rule taken together. Obviously the most primary democratic norm violated is the blatant anti-people stand of the Congress. After all, anti-people, in the democratic scheme of things, means anti-citizens. As everyone in Assam has experienced, the existing State government has been anti-citizen and pro-Bangladeshi. Here the Bangladeshi can do no wrong and the Indian citizen can do no right if he/she goes against the illegal migrant. The updated NRC threatens to disfranchise lakhs of illegal Bangladeshi voters. No wonder the Assam government is planning to approach the Supreme Court with yet another affidavit proposing that all voters lists up to the one of 2014 should be accepted as valid documents for the updating of the NRC. We have reasons to believe that the Supreme Court, having once approved of the modalities for the task of updating the NRC, is unlikely to accede to irratiol demands made by the government at this stage just because without all the voters of the 2014 voters list, winning the 2016 Assembly elections will be an almost impossible task for the Congress. We have also reasons to believe that the Supreme Court will not permit the 2016 Assembly elections to be held until the task of updating the NRC has been completed to its satisfaction.

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