Union Home Minister Amit Shah has assured civil society and political representatives from the northeastern States that tribal areas in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, and States protected by the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system — Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland — would be shielded from the impact of the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), 2019.
The exemption will mean that undocumented non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who acquire Indian citizenship under the new law, will not be allowed to settle in these areas and States, but can do so in other parts of the country.
Civil society groups and political representatives from the region met Mr. Shah in Delhi as part of a consultative process on the CAB, which is expected to be introduced in the ongoing Parliament session.
Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and Director, Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar were also part of the consultative process.
Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswas Sarma, who participated in meetings chaired by Mr. Shah with groups from the Northeast on Friday and Saturday, told The Hindu that 99% of the delegations were against the CAB in its present form and that Mr. Shah had assured them that the concerns of all groups would be accommodated without compromising the soul of the Bill.
The Bill passed by Lok Sabha lapsed as it could not be passed in the Upper House. The fresh version being drafted for introduction in Parliament would mention December 31, 2014, as the cut-off date for religious minorities from the three countries, Mr. Sarma said. In the earlier form, the date was not specified in the Bill, but was implied, he added.
“If the people who acquire citizenship as per this Bill want to go to say Arunachal Pradesh or Meghalaya, they will require Inner Line Permit (ILP),” Mr Sarma explained. “They can have Indian citizenship, but cannot settle in these States (Northeast); they will still require the consent of the State government,” he said.
“You can be a citizen in Bengal or Delhi, but not these States for the purpose of voting, business or doing jobs etc. The Bill will have this safeguard,” Mr. Sarma explained.
Citizens from other States require ILP to visit Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland as per Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873. Meghalaya and Mizoram are also opposed to the Bill amid concerns that outsiders would settle there, and that their unique tradition and culture would be compromised.
Mr. Sarma said some mechanism would be devised for Manipur also. “In Tripura and Assam, a large number of people are likely to claim citizenship under the new Bill. What kind of protection can be given to the indigenous communities of these two States will be examined,” he added.
He said the Bill would be piloted well before time so that it can be passed in this session, subject to wisdom of parliament. The ongoing winter session concludes on December 13.
Views from the region
The meeting with representatives and groups was held in the backdrop of protests against the Bill in Northeastern States. Many there say it would nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of illegal migrants, irrespective of religion. The groups were told on Saturday that the CAB would have a provision to detect and deport all illegal migrants who entered after December, 2014.
P.N Siem of Khasi Autonomous District Council in Meghalaya said the CAB should not be applied in the State.
Former Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, who met Mr. Shah said after the meeting, that the Bill was going to create a chaotic situation, bring in a sense of insecurity and mistrust among the ethnic indigenous communities of the Northeast.
“Has any proper study been done how many people will be granted citizenship? On the other hand, they say there will be simultaneous NRC. Can we have two categories of citizens? What is the difference between a citizen and a foreigner who is awarded a citizenship? It is a question of ramification in the long run...10, 20 or 50 years from now... you may say you have protective laws but you have seen what happened in Kashmir, you had certain provisions, does it still exist now?” Mr. Sangma said.
He added that protective laws like ILP have not been able to stop demographic changes in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. “If you want to protect the interests of religious minorities in Bangladesh, don’t we have international laws and certain protocols in place? If somebody is hell bent on passing a law against the concerns of the people, it is a different issue,” he said.
Samuel Jyra who represented North East Students Organisation (NESO) said people from Manipur have not been consulted yet. “The protective measures should be offered to all Northeast areas….we share border with other countries. We are very much concerned, it will have an impact on indigenous people of whole of Northeast,” Mr. Jyra said.
Aditya Khakhlari who represented 24 tribal bodies of Assam said, “Home Minister told us that ILP areas and Sixth schedule areas will be exempted and indigenous communities will not be affected. He said our language, culture identity and political power will be protected. We are opposing the Bill as this is against the Constitution,” he said.
Azizur Rahman of All Assam Minorities Students’ Union said the Home Minister told them that the power to grant citizenship lies with Parliament. “They were trying to convince us but we are not satisfied after the meeting, the Assam accord should be respected. If they go ahead with the Bill, we will protest,” Mr. Rahman said.