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Amit Shah allays fears over new Citizenship Bill

Amit Shah leaving the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.Ritu Raj Konwar

Amit Shah leaving the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.Ritu Raj Konwar  

Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday said the people of the northeast had nothing to fear from a fresh Citizenship (Amendment) Bill the Centre may push through.

The Centre’s bid to pass such a Bill in January had triggered widespread protests across the northeastern States as it sought to legitimise the stay of allegedly persecuted non-Muslim migrants from India’s neighbourhood.

Mr. Shah was addressing fears expressed by the Chief Ministers of the region and the “spillover effect” of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) at the fourth conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a forum of anti-Congress parties helmed by the BJP.

‘Article 371 intact’

“The Citizenship Bill will not violate Article 371 that is applicable in the northeast. It will not affect any rights of the indigenous people, nor will it affect the Inner-Line Permit,” he said. Any visitor to Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland need to possess the permit for temporary stay. Manipur and Meghalaya have been demanding such a permit.

Mr. Shah also pointed out that the proposed Bill had December 31, 2014, as the cut-off date and no one arriving after this date would be given citizenship. But he said the Centre would not let any illegal immigrants come in from neighbouring countries.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma had earlier told him that the northeastern States feel the Citizenship Bill would threaten their existence and urged him to take all the political partners of the BJP into confidence before bringing in the legislation again.

Asking whether the Centre would bypass the States before reintroducing the Bill, Mr. Sangma requested the Centre to invite all stakeholders to arrive at a consensus. “We are also worried by the exclusion of 19 lakh people from Assam’s NRC. Meghalaya shares a long border with Assam, and there are fears many of them could sneak in,” he said.

Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga too opposed the Bill. He also said the regional parties that supported the Bill had committed “political suicide”, insisting that the northeast should be excluded from its purview.

The Lok Sabha had passed the Bill on January 8 but it was not tabled in the Rajya Sabha.

The Chief Ministers also called for settling the prolonged border disputes among the States. Almost all of them have disputes with Assam.

Assam Finance Minister and NEDA Convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma said the disputes — some of which claimed lives — had often come in the way of development in the region.

“The NEDA forum can be used to solve the border disputes and other issues plaguing the region. The constituents can hold discussions to resolve these contentious issues,” Mr. Sarma said, also expressing concern over drug dealing in the region.

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