New Delhi: A day after Karnataka police on Thursday took thousands of migrant workers to different centres for ‘verification’ of their documents and detained around 500 who could not produce relevant identity cards, the labour department of the state government sought a report from the police into the incident. Meanwhile, the exercise has been called into question for its legality and manner of profiling, particularly after a BJP leader claimed that it was aimed at identifying Bangladeshis.
The developments in Karnataka came despite there being a strong opposition to the initiation of work on the National Population Register.
According to reports in the media, thousands of coffee estate workers across Kodagu were taken to three centres in the district on Thursday as police carried out an identity verification exercise. In these centres, located in Madikeri, Virajpet and Kushalnagar towns, the state police carried out both online and offline verification.
The reports said the coffee planters were told to take the migrant workers with their documents to their respective police stations on Thursday morning. The exercise also covered some workers of construction sites and resorts. They were all taken to the processing centres where the verification process continued till evening.
The media was barred from entering these centres in the morning. Most workers were later found to be hailing from Assam and West Bengal. They were asked to produce documents such as Aadhaar, PAN or voter ID cards as proof of identity. The exercise revealed that around 500 of the workers did not possess any of these documents. Subsequently, the estate owners were told to collect the original documents and not to send back the unverified workers, the Kodagu superintendent of police, Suman D. Pannekar, was quoted as saying.
The SP, however, denied that the verification process was linked to the NRC. “No government order has been received in this regard,” she said, adding that the exercise was carried out by the police of its own volition to “control the crime rate in the district and to ensure safety of the residents” and following speculation that terrorists may have taken shelter in coffee estates across Gonikoppal. The drive, she said, has provided the police with a “database on the number of migrant workers”.
However, state BJP leader and MLA from Virajpet, K.G. Bopaiah, contradicted the police, saying that the exercise was carried out to “identify Bangladeshi citizens”.
The BJP leader told CNN News 18 that “in recent times there has been a feeling that there are terrorists in Gonikoppal and they had a role in Mangalore riots.” This, he said, shook the entire state and therefore the police the “special programme”.
Stating that the drive was necessary to “find out” how many people from Bangladesh or Assam resided in the entire district, he added: “Are they really citizens of this country and do they have Aadhaar? We should know this.” It should be noted here that Aadhaar is not an accepted document to prove citizenship.
The BJP leader said: “All will be identified if they are some who are not able to participate in the programme they will be given another opportunity. My request to all coffee plantation owners is this is very important in the interest of our security.”
In a related development, the Karnataka labour department on Friday sought a report from Kodagu district SP into the incident after labour secretary P. Manivannan came to know about it through Twitter.
With the drive being seen as a prelude of what the proposed National Register of Citizens could end up leading to, questions are being asked regarding its legality. Also, the manner of profiling has been called into question.
The inspector general of police (southern range) Vipul Kumar, however, denied its link to either the CAA or NRC. “It was not a drive, but planters were told that if there were workers with no valid identity, then they could come to ensure their validity or identity,” he said.
BJP leaders in Karnataka have several times spoken about the presence of ‘lakhs of Bangladeshi immigrants’, without substantiating their claim. Recently, Bengaluru police razed several makeshift homes in the outskirts of the city after a BJP MLA claimed they belonged to undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. An investigation found that the migrants were from north Karnataka, West Bengal and parts of the Northeast and all were Indian citizens.