Police in Bengaluru have launched a drive to arrest and detain alleged illegal Bangladeshi residents at the instance of the new BJP government in Karnataka. This despite the lack of a functioning detention centre to house alleged illegal immigrants.
The question of lack of facilities to detain such alleged immigrants until deportation came up in the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday, with a single-judge bench directing the state home ministry to place on record the arrangements. Justice K N Phaneendra’s direction came in the course of a bail plea filed by two alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who were arrested in rural Bengaluru in August 2018.
The alleged large-scale presence of illegal Bangladeshis in Bengaluru has become a political issue and source of confusion since the BJP came to power in July, with Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai saying that a National Register of Citizens will be introduced and Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao warning against sheltering suspected immigrants.
Prodded by the state government, police on October 25 detained 60 alleged illegal Bangaleshi residents from two pockets in east and south-east Bengaluru, where the majority of Bangladeshi immigrants live, often working as ragpickers for the corporation and domestic help at private homes.
Among those detained are 24 women and 16 children. The police have filed two cases under Foreigners Act 1946 and Section 370 of the IPC for trafficking.
Sources said the police began the crackdown under pressure from the state government to demonstrate implementation of the political policy of the BJP to weed out illegal Bangladeshis.
“A large number of people has come from other countries, especially Bangladesh, and settled in Bengaluru and other cities of Karnataka,” Bommai said in statements espousing an NRC on the lines of the Assam NRC. “We are collecting information and will discuss with the Union minister the road ahead,” Bommai said last month.
The BJP in Karnataka has often alleged the presence of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh on a large scale. In the HC this week, state authorities however indicated that official records show the presence of only 373 (without the recent 60 detentions) illegal residents from Bangladesh, with 127 released on bail.
Police tasked with deportation
The entire responsibility of ensuring the deportation of alleged illegal Bangladeshi immigrants arrested in Bengaluru over the last couple of weeks has been given to Bengaluru Police, officials from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office of the MHA said. The MHA will issue ‘leave India’ notices to them when all procedures are completed.
“We raised the issue on several occasions, even in the state legislature. Lakhs of Bangladeshis have come into the state. We said this when Parameshwara (Congress leader) was home minister. They never took it seriously,” former BJP CM Jagadish Shettar said.
The police have claimed that the crackdown is part of a bid to prevent crime. “To curb crime, the city crime branch has launched efforts to find illegal immigrants and deport them. A special drive was carried out on October 25, where 60 people were detained. Procedures have been initiated to deport them. All the detainees are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants,” police said in a statement.
Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao also issued a warning to the public against harbouring illegal immigrants, triggering apprehension in areas with Bengali workers.
“There are Bangladeshis staying in the country illegally without documents. They can be involved in anti-national activities. We will initiate criminal conspiracy cases against those who harbour such people,” Rao said, while some residents’ associations in east Bengaluru sought police help in verifying credentials of workers.
With a proposed detention centre — for foreigners awaiting deportation, and those accused of crime waiting to be sent back to their country of origin — not yet operational in Bengaluru, all the detainees have been housed in the Bengaluru prison (the men) and state homes (for women and children).
A proposed detention centre intended as a “foreigners movement restriction centre” ahead of deportation procedures is not operational in Bengaluru on account of confusion among agencies in the state and Centre on security, costs and maintenance at a 40-bed social welfare department hostel which has been converted into a detention centre, Karnataka officials said.
“The foreigners restriction centre is not meant to detain illegal immigrants who have no documents to determine their country of origin. It is basically for people whose nationalities are established and are awaiting deportation,” a senior government official said.
“If there are court directions, then the restriction centre can be used as a detention centre for illegal immigrants as well, but there is the question of how long people can be detained if their home country refuses to accept them.”