Underscoring that his government will bring back and pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), Union Home Minister Amit Shah said Monday that Constitutional safeguards to states and communities in North-Eastern states will not be overridden by the CAB, as he sought to reassure North East Chief Ministers.
Addressing the fourth conclave of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) — a BJP-led alliance of regional parties in the region — Shah sought to reassure concerns of allies after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published in Assam last month.
This was also Shah’s first visit to Assam after the final NRC was published on August 31. The Chief Ministers of eight North-Eastern states, including Sikkim, attended the meet.
Why CAB hits raw nerve
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill aims to grant citizenship to immigrants of six non-Muslim faiths from three countries under relaxed norms. Large sections of society in the N-E have said the Bill is a “threat” to indigenous communities.
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Shah said there were two concerns: first, in Assam that many genuine people have been left out of the NRC and second, that those excluded should not enter adjoining states in the region.
“I want to assure both that not even one ghuspetiya (intruder) will be allowed to reside in Assam nor be allowed to enter into any other state. We want to free the whole country from intruders and not only Assam,” Shah said, adding that when he says the entire country, the states of North East India are also included. He said that the government will think carefully and take every state into confidence.
Speaking on the CAB, which led to series of protests earlier this year in the N-E, Shah sought to allay fears after Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, earlier in the meeting, said there were concerns about people left out of the NRC entering Meghalaya. Sangma also raised the issue of the implications of the CAB in North-Eastern states.
“There is a concern that in the coming days, people from Bangladesh will keep coming and coming. Will there be a stop to it, will there be a time limit?” said Sangma.
Acknowledging Sangma’s concerns, Shah said, “There are concerns regarding Article 371 — what will happen? Will the CAB overlap the ILP (Inner Line Permit)?”
Article 371 lays down special provisions for the North East states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Congress leaders and civil society groups in the N-E had said during the scrapping of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir that N-E states could also meet the same fate.
The Inner Line Permit (ILP) is a special permit required by “outsiders” from other regions of India to enter the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram and is based on the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act (BEFR), 1873.
Shah said, “I want to specify that Article 370 and Article 371 have only one similarity and that is they come after one another — that’s it. Article 370 was temporary, but Article 371 is a special provision. It is a right of the North East and no one can touch it. The CAB will not hurt Article 371. The Government of India will definitely think about that,” he said.
“When we will bring the CAB, the laws that you have to protect your community and cultural identity will remain intact. That is your right and it will not be changed in any way.”
Referring to the point raised by Sangma, Shah said, “Let me make it clear that the CAB will have the cut-off date of December 31, 2014. That is clear – the CAB is only for those who have come until that date.”
He said that it was Sangma’s concerns and to resolve concerns was the responsibility of the Government of India.
NEDA convener and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Sangma had asked about a cut-off in the CAB and whether it will override the Meghalaya Residents Safety and Security Act. Sarma said that CMs of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland has also asked whether the CAB will affect provisions of Article 371 and ILP.
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