NEW DELHI

An Act dogged by controversies

Vinay Kumar

NEW DELHI: The Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act, 1983, scrapped by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, has been mired in controversy and political parties indulged in the game of claims and counter-claims over the past 22 years.

Operative only in Assam, the Act was the instrument for detection and deportation of illegal infiltrators, mainly from Bangladesh. Illegal immigration from across the border has been dominating the Assam political scene for several years. As the State goes to the polls next year, the issue will again get priority on the agenda of parties which have played politics with the Act without addressing illegal migration.

Apprehension

Minority leaders apprehended that genuine Indian citizens would be detected and deported if the Government abrogated the law. They fear that the Foreigners Act gives blanket powers to the police to deport a person without judicial scrutiny.

The IMDT was applicable to Bangladeshi nationals who settled in Assam on or after March 25, 1971. The onus of proving the citizenship of a suspected illegal foreigner rested on the complainant — the police.

However, under the Foreigners Act, the onus lies with the person suspected to be an illegal alien.

Vocal protests

The All-Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) have been vocal in their protests against the IMDT Act, claiming it has not helped in detection of foreigners and only provided protection to a large number of infiltrators. The AASU launched the Assam agitation mainly on the issue of illegal immigration. The Assam Accord, signed with the Centre and the State Government in August 1985, brought an end to the AASU movement against foreigners and also brought the AGP to power.

Even as the accord provided for detection and deportation of Bangladeshi migrants, so far only about 10,000 persons have been identified and hardly 2,000 deported. The IMDT Act had a provision for setting up tribunals in different districts having borders with Bangladesh to decide the cases against illegal infiltrators. According to estimates, there are nearly 2.5 lakh cases pending with the 16 IMDT tribunals which, after the apex court order, will be transferred to the tribunals functioning under the Foreigners' Act.

As the IMDT Act failed to check the influx from Bangladesh, the AASU renewed the demand for scrapping the Act. But the AGP, led by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, could do precious little during its two terms in office. It alleged that the tribunal detected only a few thousand foreigners between 1985 and 2004 but it did nothing when it was in power.

The BJP-led NDA Govt, which had promised to scrap the Act, also remained silent, taking only half-hearted initiatives. If the BJP was really concerned about welfare of the indigenous people of Assam, why did it not convene a joint session in Parliament to repeal the law, ask political observers.

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