THE CENTRE is all set to grant citizenship to Chakma and Hajong refugees, who have been based in Arunachal Pradesh for over 50 years, official sources told The Indian Express.
Home Ministry officials said that while consultations are on with the state government, the citizenship will not entitle the refugees to rights enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in the state, including land ownership.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts of erstwhile East Pakistan, who had to flee when their land was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s. The Chakmas, who are Buddhist, and Hajongs, who are Hindus, also faced religious persecution in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
“The grant of citizenship is on the Union list of the Constitution and can be issued by the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) despite objections from the state government. But as normal practice, we try to take the states on board,” said a senior government official.
He said that in this case, discussions were initiated following a protest by the Arunachal government.
The state government has argued that if citizenship is granted to the refugees, it would reduce the indigenous tribal communities to a minority and deprive them of opportunities. Since 1990, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) has been demanding their ouster from the state.
Officials said the Centre may propose that Chakmas and Hajongs be issued Inner Line Permits, allowing them to travel and work but not possess land rights.
Chakmas and Hajongs entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram). While some stayed back with the Chakmas already in the district, the Indian government moved a majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now Arunachal Pradesh.
According to officials, the number of these refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to 1,00,000. At present, they do not posses citizenship and land rights, but are provided basic amenities by the state government.
Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal, had recently raised the citizenship issue at a Northeast meet chaired by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
In 2015, the Centre was given a deadline by the Supreme Court to confer citizenship to these refugees within three months. The Arunachal government approached the apex court in appeal against the order but in vain. It was then that consultations started in earnest between the state and the Centre on the issue.
In its election manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had declared India as “a natural home for persecuted Hindus”. After it came to power at the Centre, the NDA government has taken several steps to simplify the process for granting long-term visa and citizenship to Hindu minorities from neighbouring countries.