The issue of illegal immigration has been at the centre of Indian political spectrum for quite some time now. While the BJP and Modi government has shown its commitment towards illegal immigration and driving out illegal immigrants, the opposition parties and Modi baiters have been constantly trying to attack the BJP over this issue, predominantly because the opposition finds a prolific vote bank in the illegal immigrants.
The issue became the centre of attention on account of the publication of the final draft of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) by the Assam government last year. This was in line with the longstanding promise made by the BJP. The main motive behind updating and publishing NRC is to separate authentic Indian citizens in Assam from illegal immigrants. NRC consists of the names of Indian citizens of Assam and the list was prepared in 1951. Since the BJP came to power in Assam, it restarted the exercise again.
Even in the 2019 poll manifesto, BJP promised to crackdown on illegal immigration. Home Minister Amit Shah has been quick to act upon the promise made by the party. Accordingly, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has amended the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 which has brought about certain landmark changes as far as such Tribunals and curbing illegal immigration is concerned. The MHA has issued specific guidelines to detect, detain and deport illegal immigrants across the country.
The amendment to the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964 has empowered the District Magistrates in all the states and Union Territories to set up Tribunals in order to determine whether a person staying in India is a foreigner or not. The amendment is of an enabling nature as earlier it was only the Centre that was vested with the power to establish such Tribunals.
It must be noted that these Tribunals are peculiar to the state of Assam. In other parts of India, if a ‘foreigner’ is apprehended, he is produced before the local court under the Passports Act, 1920 or the Foreigners Act, 1946, the punishment ranging from three months to eight years after which deportation is ordered by the Court. However, the 1964 order provided, “The Central Government may by order, refer the question as to whether a person is not a foreigner within meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946 (31 of 1946) to a Tribunal to be constituted for the purpose, for its opinion.” The recent amendment provides, “for words Central Government may,’ the words ‘the Central Government or the State Government or the Union Territory administration or the District Collector or the District Magistrate may’ shall be substituted.”
It must be noted that recently the MHA sanctioned 1,000 Tribunals to be set up in the state of Assam in the backdrop of publication of the final NRC by July 31 this year. This shows the Centre’s resolve to decisively end the issue of illegal immigration. As per the final NRC draft published last year, around 40 lakh people had been excluded, out of which 36 lakh have filed a claim against exclusion. Four lakh residents have not filed any claim against exclusion. The recent Amendment also empowers the District Magistrate to refer even those people to Tribunal for determining whether they are foreigners or not, who haven’t filed their any claim against exclusion from the NRC.
Another important change brought about by the amendment is that now individuals can also approach the Tribunal. As per a senior government official, “Earlier only the State administration could move the Tribunal against a suspect, but with the final NRC about to be published and to give adequate opportunity to those not included, this has been done. If a person doesn’t find his or her name in the final list, they could move the Tribunal.” He added, “Opportunity will also be given to those who haven’t filed claims by referring their cases to the Tribunals. Fresh summons will be issued to them to prove their citizenship.”
It is clear that under MHA under the leadership of Amit Shah is moving briskly towards fulfilling its poll promise of curbing illegal immigration. This Amendment is a big push which will ensure that there is sufficient apparatus to determine the nationality of a person in question. The Modi government has given evidence of its strong intent right after coming into power for a second term.