Activists who have been working on the issue of undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh say they have not heard of these task forces, and even the police disagree on their number.
Guwahati: Minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju’s statement in parliament – that 500 task forces have been constituted in Assam for the detection of Bangladeshi citizens – has baffled civil society organisations and activists campaigning for action against unchecked migration from Bangladesh.
Rijiju’s statement, which was delivered in reply to an unstarred question from T. Rathinavel, said that the government has issued a “detailed procedure including setting up of special task forces in each district by all the state/ UT administrations to detect, identify and intercept illegal Bangladeshi migrants. State government of Assam has set up 500 special task force (sic).”
He added that the government has taken up the issue of migration with Bangladesh during various bilateral meetings such as the joint working group, home secretary level talks and so on. “India and Bangladesh have also put in place a coordinated Border Management Plan to address problems arising from illegal border crossings,” his response said.
Additional director general of Assam police in charge of the border R.M. Singh confirmed the existence of the task forces in each of the 32 districts in the state. Another police official in the same department said that there are 7-10 task forces in each district, depending upon the number of police stations and the size of the population. Still, they do not add up to the 500 mentioned by Rijiju in parliament. Sources in the Border Security Force (BSF) deployed along the India-Bangladesh border confirmed that no such exercise has been initiated by the paramilitary organisation, since the matter is a state subject where a judicial process is also involved.
“The formation of 500 task forces in Assam needs to be clarified by the home ministry,” said senior advocate Upamanyu Hazarika, who had submitted a special report last year to the Supreme Court detailing the measures to be adopted along the India-Bangladesh border to prevent the undocumented movement of people. “To my knowledge, there is no task force constituted by the central government. The state government had formed a task force for every district specially earmarked as border police, but the efficacy and results of the activities of these task forces are not known. After my report to the Supreme Court, an extra additional battalion of the BSF was sanctioned for Dhubri,” he told The Wire.
Hazarika’s views were echoed by senior functionaries of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Asom Jatiyatabadi Juba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP). AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya expressed “surprise” and pointed out that he was ignorant about the task forces that have been constituted to apprehend undocumented Bangladeshi migrants. He added that he would soon ask the government for details on the exercise.
The BJP-led government in Assam has drawn flak for not being able to fulfil its promise ahead of the assembly polls last year of taking stringent measures for the detection and deportation of foreign nationals who are in the state without proper documentation. On several occasions, the Supreme Court has pulled up the state government for its failure to update of the National Register of Citizens, which could give clarity about who is a migrant and who is a citizen.
This apart, the vital recommendations on preventive measures submitted to the president by former state governor Lieutenant General (retired) S.K. Sinha many years ago have not yet been implemented. Despite increasing the number of foreigners’ tribunals to 100, there are more than 1.78 lakh cases yet to be decided. The situation has been made worse by the mounting number of migrants who go missing every year after being declared “foreigners” by the tribunals.
Another riddle about the task forces in Assam is the date of their formation. While two superintendents of police claimed that they were constituted at least two years ago, home minister Rajnath Singh had announced on April 29 that the Centre would soon set up a task force to identify and deport undocumented Bangladeshi settlers from Assam after a meeting with AASU in the capital.
Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior Guwahati-based journalist and the author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men.