Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee may not see eye to eye with Narendra Modi on deportation of illegal migrants from Bangladesh but her government has started working on a proposal sent 15 years ago by the home ministry then headed by L K Advani — detention centres for such migrants in areas bordering Bangladesh.
At election rallies in West Bengal, Modi had promised deportation of illegal migrants, something Mamata strongly opposed in a state where many residents share a strong bond with their East Bengal counterparts. Illegal immigration was also part of Sushma Swaraj’s agenda when she met Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka Thursday. Before leaving, Sushma had called Mamata and is said to have discussed immigration among various subjects.
Mamata’s stand notwithstanding, the jails department has started looking afresh at the proposal Advani’s ministry had sent. This is because Bengal’s jails are too crowded already.
“In 1999, when Jyoti Basu was chief minister and Advani the union home minister, a proposal came from the Ministry of Home Affairs that the state build detention centres in areas such as Bongaon (North 24-Parganas) and Phulbari (Jalpaiguri) for illegal migrants. The Centre was ready to grant funds and the state PWD was supposed to execute the project, but the file gathered dust for 15 years,” a jails department official told The Indian Express.
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“Now with a new government at the Centre that is keen on detecting illegal migrants, we have moved on this,” the official said. “We have sent the file to the PWD so that it can expedite the project.”
PWD Minister Shankar Chakrabarty, who was out of Kolkata, told The Indian Express: “I cannot say immediately the status of the project. I will find out when I come back.”
Meanwhile, following instructions from the MHA, the jails department is preparing a list of Bangladeshi prisoners with only the last six months of their sentence to serve. This is in accordance with an agreement signed between the two governments in 2010 to exchange such prisoners. According to the jails department official, the sentence for illegal entry does not usually exceed two years. If they can be accommodated in detention centres near the border, he said, they can be sent back as soon as they complete their terms.
It is not always easy, however, to deport such prisoners after they complete their terms. As of May 1, out of 3,314 Bangladeshi nationals lodged in Bengal’s jails, 651 people have completed their terms but have not been sent back because of various difficulties. In some cases, Bangladesh refuses to take them back, jail officials say; in other cases, legal hassles prevent the state government from handing them over to a central agency such as the BSF for deportation.
The 3,314 Bangladeshi prisoners are among a total of 22,863 in Bengal. This is against a total capacity of 2,300 in the state’s 49 prisons.