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Assam Accord fails to make any headway

By R Dutta Choudhury
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GUWAHATI, Aug 14 - Thirty years have passed since the historic Assam Accord was signed to bring an end to the six-year-long movement for the detection and deportation of foreigners living illegally in Assam and unfortunately, even today, the people of the State are agitating for the implementation of the Accord. Time and again, successive governments in Delhi had made tall promises on implementation of different clauses of the Accord, but those promises are yet to be translated on the ground.

The main clauses of the Accord, relating to detection and deportation of foreigners and sealing of the international border with Bangladesh to prevent fresh infiltration, are yet to be fulfilled. In fact, the process of detection and deportation of foreigners remains a farce as less than 10 per cent of the persons declared as foreigners by the Tribunals, constituted under the provisions of the Foreigners� Act, could be physically deported. Even the scrapping of the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act by the Supreme Court in 2005 could not expedite the process of detection and deportation of foreigners.

According to records available with The Assam Tribune, during the period from 1986 to March this year, more than six lakh inquiries were initiated against suspected foreigners and the Foreigners� Tribunals disposed of more than one lakh cases, declaring nearly 50,000 persons as illegal migrants. But only around 900 of them could be deported, while the others did the vanishing act. As there is no provision in the law to keep the suspects under surveillance during the trial period, most shift to other places, making it impossible for the law enforcing agencies to detect them. Interestingly, some illegal migrants manage to escape even after they are declared as foreigners. The government has set up three detention centres � in Kokrajhar, Goalpara and Silchar � to keep those declared as foreigners by the Tribunals till they can be deported and only around 200 are now staying in such camps.

The process of deportation has slowed down because of the refusal of the border guarding force of Bangladesh to accept them as Bangladeshi nationals, and so far, the Government of India has not been able to persuade the neighbouring country to sign any kind of treaty to accept the persons declared as Bangladeshi nationals by courts and tribunals here in India.

There have been instances when Bangladeshi nationals were forcibly pushed back, but in several cases, they manage to re-enter India by taking advantage of the porous international border.

To expedite the process of detection of foreigners, a decision was taken to set up 64 additional Tribunals, but till date, those are yet to start functioning and a huge number of cases are pending in the existing Tribunals.

The second major point of the Assam Accord was sealing of the international border to prevent fresh infiltration. Of course, border management has improved considerably over the years, particularly in Assam-Bangladesh border as the fencing is nearing completion, while the strength of the Border Security Force has also been increased considerably. But the problem will not be solved till the entire border with Bangladesh is properly fenced. Moreover, the riverine international border is still vulnerable because of lack of any physical barrier and there is urgent need for securing it. The process of installation of floodlights along the international border also remains very slow. Moreover, way back in 1999, a decision was taken to create a second line of defence to effectively check infiltration, but the process of setting up of the force stopped only after creation of a few outposts of it.

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which provides for constitutional protection for the indigenous people of Assam, is vital for protection of identity of the indigenous people in the face of silent demographic invasion. The All Assam Students� Union (AASU) has been demanding reservation of seats in Assembly, Parliament and local bodies for the indigenous people of the State under the provision of this clause. But unfortunately, till date, the Assam government has not been able to finalize the definition of �Assamese people�. Though the Assam Assembly Speaker Pranab Gogoi, following discussions with representatives of various ethnic groups of the State, came up with a definition of �Assamese people�, which was hailed by various ethnic organisations, even his party members did not support it and the Clause 6 of the Accord remains on paper only.

In clause 7, the Government of India assured to take effective steps for the all-round economic development of Assam to improve the standard of living of people of the State. As flood and erosion cause havoc to rural economy of Assam every year, the AASU had demanded that those should be treated as national problems and the Government of India should take effective steps for a permanent solution of the problems. In May, 2005, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in a meeting to review the implementation of the Accord, assured that the flood and erosion problems of the State would be treated as national problems, but his assurance was never implemented on the ground. The Central government had also formed various committees, like LC Jain Committee and Shukla Commission, to recommend measures for economic development of Assam but majority of the recommendations were never implemented.

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Assam Accord fails to make any headway

GUWAHATI, Aug 14 - Thirty years have passed since the historic Assam Accord was signed to bring an end to the six-year-long movement for the detection and deportation of foreigners living illegally in Assam and unfortunately, even today, the people of the State are agitating for the implementation of the Accord. Time and again, successive governments in Delhi had made tall promises on implementation of different clauses of the Accord, but those promises are yet to be translated on the ground.

The main clauses of the Accord, relating to detection and deportation of foreigners and sealing of the international border with Bangladesh to prevent fresh infiltration, are yet to be fulfilled. In fact, the process of detection and deportation of foreigners remains a farce as less than 10 per cent of the persons declared as foreigners by the Tribunals, constituted under the provisions of the Foreigners� Act, could be physically deported. Even the scrapping of the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act by the Supreme Court in 2005 could not expedite the process of detection and deportation of foreigners.

According to records available with The Assam Tribune, during the period from 1986 to March this year, more than six lakh inquiries were initiated against suspected foreigners and the Foreigners� Tribunals disposed of more than one lakh cases, declaring nearly 50,000 persons as illegal migrants. But only around 900 of them could be deported, while the others did the vanishing act. As there is no provision in the law to keep the suspects under surveillance during the trial period, most shift to other places, making it impossible for the law enforcing agencies to detect them. Interestingly, some illegal migrants manage to escape even after they are declared as foreigners. The government has set up three detention centres � in Kokrajhar, Goalpara and Silchar � to keep those declared as foreigners by the Tribunals till they can be deported and only around 200 are now staying in such camps.

The process of deportation has slowed down because of the refusal of the border guarding force of Bangladesh to accept them as Bangladeshi nationals, and so far, the Government of India has not been able to persuade the neighbouring country to sign any kind of treaty to accept the persons declared as Bangladeshi nationals by courts and tribunals here in India.

There have been instances when Bangladeshi nationals were forcibly pushed back, but in several cases, they manage to re-enter India by taking advantage of the porous international border.

To expedite the process of detection of foreigners, a decision was taken to set up 64 additional Tribunals, but till date, those are yet to start functioning and a huge number of cases are pending in the existing Tribunals.

The second major point of the Assam Accord was sealing of the international border to prevent fresh infiltration. Of course, border management has improved considerably over the years, particularly in Assam-Bangladesh border as the fencing is nearing completion, while the strength of the Border Security Force has also been increased considerably. But the problem will not be solved till the entire border with Bangladesh is properly fenced. Moreover, the riverine international border is still vulnerable because of lack of any physical barrier and there is urgent need for securing it. The process of installation of floodlights along the international border also remains very slow. Moreover, way back in 1999, a decision was taken to create a second line of defence to effectively check infiltration, but the process of setting up of the force stopped only after creation of a few outposts of it.

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which provides for constitutional protection for the indigenous people of Assam, is vital for protection of identity of the indigenous people in the face of silent demographic invasion. The All Assam Students� Union (AASU) has been demanding reservation of seats in Assembly, Parliament and local bodies for the indigenous people of the State under the provision of this clause. But unfortunately, till date, the Assam government has not been able to finalize the definition of �Assamese people�. Though the Assam Assembly Speaker Pranab Gogoi, following discussions with representatives of various ethnic groups of the State, came up with a definition of �Assamese people�, which was hailed by various ethnic organisations, even his party members did not support it and the Clause 6 of the Accord remains on paper only.

In clause 7, the Government of India assured to take effective steps for the all-round economic development of Assam to improve the standard of living of people of the State. As flood and erosion cause havoc to rural economy of Assam every year, the AASU had demanded that those should be treated as national problems and the Government of India should take effective steps for a permanent solution of the problems. In May, 2005, the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in a meeting to review the implementation of the Accord, assured that the flood and erosion problems of the State would be treated as national problems, but his assurance was never implemented on the ground. The Central government had also formed various committees, like LC Jain Committee and Shukla Commission, to recommend measures for economic development of Assam but majority of the recommendations were never implemented.