The Assam government is in denial mode over the issue of Bangladeshis crossing into the State and unless there is an agreement over extraditing them, the problem will not be resolved, according to Alaka Sarma, Economics Professor at Gauhati University and former vice-president of the Asom Gana Parishad.
Ms. Sarma, who visited relief camps in Kokrajhar and Dhubri, said the 1985 Assam Accord remained only on paper and India’s border with Bangladesh and other countries was open. Had the tenets of the Assam Accord been adhered to, and the borders sealed, the influx would not have occurred, she said at a meeting organised by the Press Club here on Monday.
After the recent violence, Assam witnessed “the country’s largest exodus” and about four lakh people were living in camps with no prospect of returning home, as everything was razed to the ground.
Ms. Sarma, who represented Nalbari twice as MLA and who lost her husband, a former Cabinet Minister in a bomb blast in 2000, said that from 1979 to 1985 there was a strong movement in Assam against foreign nationals, culminating in the signing of Assam Accord. However, 27 years later, things had not changed. People from Bangladesh walk over to India for daily wages and then return and in addition, the steady flow of migrants had created problems and a clash of culture with the local tribal people, including Bodos.
The riots were not about pitting one religion against another. The Assam government was aware of the tensions and this violence was a failure of the government to check the same. Quoting statements made in Parliament, Ms. Sarma said 80,000 Bangladeshis entered Assam with legal documents but vanished without a trace.
She said that according to the Foreigners Act, the onus of proof was on the person charged with being an illegal immigrant, but under the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal Act, which was operational in Assam till 2005, the onus was on the complainant. Some time ago, 54,000 people were identified as foreigners but they were not deported. In 1985, in Assam, about two lakh people were in the category of doubtful voters, she said, estimating at least four lakh migrants from Bangladesh in the State. The number could be higher.
“There is no treaty with Bangladesh on extradition and that is posing problems since these people would not be accepted back if India deported them,” she pointed out. The issue of extradition was not mentioned in the Assam Accord.