The article is written by Daksha Khanna, from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. The purpose of the article is to highlight the factors for illegal migration in India. Further, it covers the economic, social and political impacts of the same. Lastly, some suggestions and recommendations are proposed to control the flow of illegal migration in the country.
Table of Contents
The act provides for the expulsion of certain immigrants from the state of Assam, who had migrated to Assam and started living in different parts of the country. The settling down of such immigrants proved to be a bane and turned out to be detrimental to the country. The interests of the general public of India were compromised. This is the reason why the Act was formed and it gave the authority to expel illegal immigrants from the soil of Assam.
Who are illegal immigrants
An illegal immigrant is a person who crosses an international boundary without any valid documents, to carry out illegal activities in that country or for political or economics purposes. Section 2 (b) of The Citizenship Act, 1955, an illegal migrant is a foreigner who has entered into India without a valid passport or any legal travel documents OR someone who has legally entered the country with a passport and valid documents but stays beyond the permitted period.
Assam had been experiencing a huge influx of immigrants from various parts of the country for a long time, beginning from the British colonial period. Bengal became one of the biggest sources of an influx in the state as people were in search of fertile lands. After 1947, the communal riots became the reason for the influx of immigrants from the eastern regions of Pakistan. This influx alarmed the government as their resources were at risk and this led to the formulation of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act,1950. The British brought migrants from West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh to work in tea plantations.
Assam is the most vivid example to prove the number of adverse effects illegal migration can have on a state and the country.
Factors that contributed to the illegal immigration
- Increasing pressure of population on land in East Pakistan and the lack of control over the same lead to the migration.
- The porous, unprotected and unguarded India- Bangladesh border lead to the same.
- Availability of better economic opportunities across the border.
- Immigration was also the result of floods and cyclones in Bangladesh.
- The ethnic persecution of minorities was the biggest reason for illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
Identification of illegal immigrants
Since Assam had the maximum number of illegal immigrants, the 1951 Census was taken as the base for data for the creation of the National Register of Citizens. The idea was to record the particulars of every citizen residing in Assam as a part of Census of 1951 and to subsequently identify illegal immigrants. There was an implementation of a separate tribunal process for the identification of illegal migrants in Assam which was stuck down by the Supreme Court of India in 2002 on the grounds of being unconstitutional. The Immigrants Act 1950 came into force after the influx of refugees from then East Pakistan after Partition. The process of NRC turns out more complex than the Ministry of Home Affairs would like people to believe. No concrete steps were taken by the government until 1965.
It was in 1965 that they came up with the idea of issuing National Identity to all the citizens residing in Assam and to detect illegal immigrants.
After 1950, there was a surge in migration from East Pakistan. There was a political turmoil in Pakistan which led to a civil war and the formation of a new country called Bangladesh. This caused an exodus of refugees that never returned.
According to the 1961 Census– 2,20,691 infiltrators had entered Assam. In 1957, the act was repealed.
Later these complications led to the rise of a mass movement called the Assam Movement led by All Assam Students Union. The definition of Illegal Immigrants in the Assam Accord is as those who infiltrated illegally after 24th December 1971.
According to the 2011 census data, Assam recorded the highest increase in the share of Muslim from 30.9% (2001) of the state’s population to 34.2% (2011).
1984- There were no restrictions on the movements across the borders of India and Pakistan.
1950- Witnessed the implementation of Immigrants (expulsion from Assam) Act.
1951- The National Register of Citizens was prepared based on the census of 1951 and recorded the particulars of those who belonged to Assam, mentioning details of houses and holdings with numbers and names.
After 1951, the NRC was never updated but later felt the need for it due to a steady increase in the influx of immigrants. It was a list that kept a track of the legitimate citizens in India.
In 1955- The Citizenship Act was formalized and rules were made for Indian Citizenship by birth, descent and registration.
1964- The central government issued Foreigners’ Tribunal Order under Foreigners’ Act, 1946.
1971- A huge rise in the influx of immigrants due to the India- Pak war.
1979- An Anti- Foreigners’ Movement began.
1985- Assam Accord was signed to put an end to the problem.
1999- Updating the NRC became a pressing issue.
2005- The Supreme Court of India declared Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 (IMDT) as unconstitutional.
2016- BJP introduces the Citizen (Amendment) Bill proposing citizenship facility for non- Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
2017- NRC draft was published which had 1.9 crore names.
2018- Another draft was published in which 40 lakh of 2.9 crore people were excluded.
2019- An Additional Draft Exclusion List was published consisting of 1,02,462 people. With the final list being published on 31st August 2019.
Objective and scope of the Act
The act was enacted for the provision of the expulsion of certain immigrants from Assam. The Act has empowered the Central Government. the central government viewed their stay as being detrimental to the interests of the general public of India or any section of any Scheduled Tribe in Assam.
The important provisions included :
- The first section dealt with the title and extent of the act.
- The power to order the expulsion of certain immigrants- section 2 stated that if the stay of a certain person, originally a resident of a place outside India, proves to be detrimental to the general public, the Central Government may direct such a person to leave the country or Assam as may be deemed necessary.
- Delegation of power- ln this provision, the central government could delegate their powers conferred to them by section 2, to be exercised also by any subordinate officer to the centre or any officer subordinate to that of the government.
- Power to give effect to orders- According to the provision, any authority, vested with power according to the act, may also exercise power, or take steps or use force as may be deemed necessary for the exercise of such power.
- Penalties- This was the provision related to the punishment of a person who contravenes, fails to comply, harbours any person who has contravened any order made under section 2 or attempts to do any of this.
- Protection to persons acting under this act- section 6 gave protection to any person who acts in good faith, will not have to face any proceedings or legal action.
- The act can be repealed by the Repealing and Amending act, 1957.
The onus of proof was on the complainant, in the previous provisions. The process of identification according to the Assam accord then became difficult and became useless.
Roles and responsibilities
The influx of immigrants from East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) continued and it posed a serious threat to the economic, cultural and political identity of the state and its people. Due to these scenarios, the government passed the Immigrant (expulsion from Assam) Act in 1950. This gave the central government the power to detect and deport infiltrators and immigrants from East Bengal (the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh).
The Congress party in Assam continued to draw the pointed attention of the Prime Minister to the important issue of infiltration and the problem that Assam was facing. The PM Jawahar Lal Nehru replied to this by saying that one should not look at it as a political move and it is an infiltration causing problems which should be stopped and effectively dealt with. He also further states that the infiltration took place in the first five years of independence when the border was not adequately guarded. This would make it difficult to deal with the illegal immigrants who infiltrated before 1952, so, the date of enquiry might be fixed which shall be from the year 1952.
This assurance given by the Prime Minister was left unimplemented as a part of the Congress Party treated the minority like a vote bank which made them take no actions against the pressing issue.
Later in 1962, the people of Assam brought to the notice of the government the alarming increase in influx and the increase in population resulting from the same which was highlighted in the Census Report of 1961. This led to bigger problems now which posed a serious threat to identities of the existing population and law and order problems which made it difficult for the state to be governed efficiently. This made the government take up the responsibility of making representations to the government of India and implementing important and urgent measures to check the further influx of immigrants. The proposed measures were as follows:
- Measures are taken to increase the number of border check posts.
- Focussing on strengthening the existing check posts.
- Delegation of powers under the Foreigners Act, 1946 to the superintendent of police and magistrates in border areas. This was done to make deportation of the infiltrators easier and quicker.
- Suggestions were given to the committee members to give deterrent and exemplary punishment to those illegal entrants.
None of this was implemented and these measures proved to be a failure.
Limitations and exceptions
The only limitation and exception to the act was that those with legal documents and those who had migrated before 1951 will not be considered for deportation and would also not be considered as illegal immigrants. India has become a country with the highest amount of illegal immigrants. The only exception was that refugees will be given secured rights, land and so on. This was not promised for the illegal immigrants.
India has taken up this issue in several discussions with Bangladesh but the latter has always denied the presence of such invisible immigrants in India from their land. As a result, proper measures could not have been taken, legally. Since Bangladesh did not accept the presence of the illegal immigrants, the actual illegal immigrants were then just considered refugees.
India’s action for the refugees is based on ad hoc and administrative measures depending on the situation.
The maximum impact was experienced by the tribal areas of Assam. The Assam Land Revenue Manual published by the government of Assam mentions the reasons for the formation of belts to safeguard the economic interests of tribal people. A large percentage of the tribal population was inhabited by tribal people and lived in primitive conditions. They were not self-sufficient to look after themselves and achieve welfare due to lack of education and material disadvantages. The fact that the Immigrants ( Expulsion from Assam ) Act, 1950 was passed by the parliament which made it clear that the problem was recognized to have existed. No promising action was taken for the same.
The Assam problem also had an impact on electoral politics. The indigenous population was being reduced to a minority and political power would slip out of the hands. Even though the Election Commission was aware of this problem but never took any important step. According to the seventh schedule of the Constitution of India, the subject citizenship naturalisation of aliens admission and emigration and expulsion are subjects mentioned in the Union List and therefore this becomes the duty of the authority in the centre to control and stop the influx of foreign nationalist. These were the certain issues that had to be taken into consideration but the authorities failed to carry out their responsibilities.
Illegal immigration had destabilized political, social, communal and ethnic tensions. Further, the immigrants were also an influence on the election results. It led to an increase in pressure over the land and resources.
- The influx of immigrants created a crisis among the identity of the existing Assamese population in the state. This leads to weakening in employment opportunities. Their culture was in jeopardy and their political dominance in the state weakened. Further, most of them failed to identify themselves.
- Encroachment was also witnessed over the forest areas and was used by the immigrants for settlement and cultivation. A decline of 39% was seen in 1951-1952.
- It became difficult to identify and deport the illegal immigrants and to identify them as they spoke a similar language. The similarity was seen in Bengali speaking Muslims of Assam and illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
- Social exclusion, poverty and poor housing were other major problems that had to be dealt with.
- Immigration increased the pressure on the state government as it had to increase the expenditure on education and health facilities.
- It opened the possibility of terrorists to enter and invade the Indian lands.
- There was the pressure of the immigrants on the agricultural sector and apprehension of taking away the jobs of the native agricultural workers.
- Those few educated illegal immigrants started competing for jobs and then got their children educated who again started competing for jobs more efficiently. This is an example of indirect economic impact.
- Displacement of the native workers in the state.
- The average wage level has been decreasing due to the high availability of workers. The population of these illegal immigrants will keep increasing and their wage rate will keep decreasing. This vicious cycle has to be broken to bring about a balance in the state and especially in the country.
- Later, more impacts were seen, such as:
- Assam became one of the slowest growing states in per capita terms during the 1980s.
- The state domestic product became lower than the rate of other northeastern states and the national average. (1991-2000).
- Illegal immigrants in every year have been adding a good number of people. It is one of the main reasons for the population explosion. Due to this, there is a possibility of decreasing the wage level.
The immigrants have put a lot of pressure on the land. They did not contribute a lot to the government revenue when the government kept spending a tremendous amount to maintain the large fraction of the illegal migrants.
It had become very important to stop the influx of population in the country. What was required was consistency in trying to not focus on the vote bank politics. The actual number of identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was highly disappointing.
This called for higher border patrolling and preventing movement in the population for some time. Due to illegal migration, several illegal voters got their names enlisted in the voting list illegally.
A better check was required to be kept for the detection of legal documents; even though this would not help in deporting all the illegal immigrants but would have surely reduced a great amount of burden on the state.
- Economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh is considered essential as this is how the migrants will reduce immigrating in the hunt for better employment opportunities and stay in their own country with an improved economic condition.
- The fact that the parties are not willing to remove the illegal immigrants is because they act as a vote bank for the parties that favour them. What we need to focus on are the existing citizens of the country and improving their conditions which will ultimately lead to a majority voting for the party considered the best in the given condition.
- To efficiently deal with the illegal immigrants’ situation, India will have to take steps further for a bilateral agreement with Bangladeshi government for making available the legal travel documents of the infiltrators and to take responsibility on their part.
- A National Immigration Policy is the need of the hour and the commission should have a better hold over checking the documents of immigrants and infiltrators.
- Our nationals in the border districts and for that matter in the whole State should be provided with a multipurpose photo identity card for the specific state with better security than the existing AADHAR document.
This problem has been in the country for such a long time and is so deeply rooted in the system that it is cumbersome for the authorities to tackle this situation in a year or two. An efficient process to eradicate this problem is needed and it might be a long and cumbersome process but it should prove to be efficient.
- To look at the positive consequence, which is fewer than the negative ones, the migrants bought with them multiple cropping systems which were not previously practised by them. They also bought better cultivation techniques and greater varieties of crops which lead to an increase in production in the agricultural sector of Assam.
- It had also been pointed out that the illegal immigrants did not compete for the same jobs as the native Assamese population. This was because the illegal immigrants were not literate or educated enough to fight for such jobs so they did not entirely pose a threat to the natives.
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