NEW DELHI: As the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) came into force this week, its implementation in northeast, especially in Assam, would be the real test for the Centre even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that a high-level committee on the Assam Accord’s Clause 6 would safeguard the interest of Assamese people, apprehensive because of their experience of unabated infiltration for decades.
As the Inner Line Permit (ILP) provision does not exist in Assam and the CAA only exempts the state’s tribal areas, included in the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule, from implementation of the act, signs of discontent are already emerging in remaining areas across the region.
The provisions of CAA “do not apply to tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram or Tripura as included in the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution and the area covered under ‘The Inner Line’ notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873”.
The provision means that the act does not apply to the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur which come under the ILP regime as well as to the tribal areas of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, as specified in the Sixth Schedule.
Manipur is the fourth state after Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram where the ILP regime was introduced. This was done on December 9, 2019, thus insulating one more state of the northeast from the CAA.
The Centre took the decision two days after Amit Shah’s announcement in this regard in the Lok Sabha.
To visit the ILP regime states, outsiders, including people from other states of the country, need to take permission. There is also protection for the locals with regards to lands, jobs and other facilities.
The main objective of the ILP system is to prevent settlement of other Indian nationals in the designated states in order to protect the indigenous population.
In lack of an ILP regime in Assam and only three small areas — Bodo, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao – of the state included under Sixth Schedule, it is clear that the provisions of CAA will apply to non-tribal areas of the hilly region, mainly the cities, suburbs, tea gardens and agricultural belt already inundated by “refugees” from Bangladesh.
Soon after the bill to amend the Citizenship Act to provide for citizenship to members of six non-Muslim communities fleeing to India, till December 31, 2014, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan due to religious persecution was introduced in Parliament, it triggered widespread violent demonstrations in Assam, as protesters feared it would convert thousands of illegal migrants left out in the state’s NRC to legal citizens.
Experts say if such demonstrations again begin in Assam while implementating the CAA, it will have disastrous consequences not only for the economy of the northeast but also for the rest of India as the state is the third-largest producer of petroleum and natural gas and is the gateway to the northeast.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity considering the sensitivity of the matter, they said that a peaceful Assam is important for the successful development of the rest of the region, which again is the stepping stone to the much touted ‘Act East’ policy of the Modi government.
Home Minister Shah last month told Parliament that a high-level committee on clause 6 of Assam Accord would safeguard the interest of Assamese people from CAA, referring to a panel dealing with complex issues on constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for Assamese people, including implementation of ILP in Assam.
The panel was first set up in January 2019 but had to be dissolved as its chairman, former IAS officer M.P. Bezbaruah, and four others quit protesting against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The committee was reconstituted with 14 members in July 2019, with former Gauhati High Court judge Justice (retd) Biplab Kumar Sarma as the new chairman. It was asked to give its report within six month of its constitution by January 15 this year.
Amid furore over the CAA, the Home Ministry on Wednesday gave one more month to the high-level committee to submit its report on assessing quantum of seats to be reserved in the Assam Assembly and local bodies for the Assamese people.
The committee was set up as per Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord, which provides for detection and deportation of all illegal immigrants, who have entered the country after 1971 and living in the state, irrespective of their religion. The cut-off date for detection and deportation of foreigners for the rest of the country is 1951.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had also recently met Amit Shah to discuss various aspects of Clause 6, under which the Central government had promised to provide constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at email@example.com)