The sealing of the Assam-Bangladesh border was one of the main election planks of the BJP during last year’s Assembly elections in the state. Recently, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while speaking at a BSF programme in Madhya Pradesh, claimed that the government would be sealing the entire Bangladesh border by the end of 2018.
But senior Supreme Court lawyer Upamanyu Hazarika, who was appointed by the Supreme Court as a one-man commission in May 2015 to look into the India-Bangladesh boundary issue and the influx of illegal immigrants, said the task was impossible.
“The borders can never be sealed. The slogans raised by the BJP were for the purpose of election sloganeering. Out of the 272 km long Assam-Bangladesh border, 95 km is riverine and out of that the 55 km stretch in Dhubri is virtually unmanageable,” Hazarika said.
P.K. Mishra, retired additional director-general of the Border Security Force, who worked extensively in Assam, seconded the view.
“It is an unmanageable terrain and after every monsoon, new islands come up. The fences are washed away due to the change of course of the rivers. Sometimes our land gets submerged, sometimes their land gets submerged. And those who can swim can easily cross over,” Mishra, who is now associated with the strategic think tank Vivekananda International Foundation, said.
According to Hazarika, the right question was not whether illegal immigration can be stopped or not. “By 2040, the indigenous people are going to become the minority and the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants will become the majority and it may happen that in 2040 the CM of Assam is likely to be an illegal immigrant. As per the government’s own admission in 2001, out of the 2.61 crore population of Assam, 50 lakh were illegal immigrants. In other words, every 5th person in Assam is an illegal Muslim outsider. The entire demography of Assam has changed. In 1901 only two out of the then eight districts had Muslim population of more than 25%—Goalpara and Cachar. In 2001, out of the 23 districts, six had become Muslim majority. Dhubri has a mind boggling 74% Muslim population and the total percentage of Muslims in the state is now 35% and if you go through the data, the border areas are the regions which have seen exponential growth of Muslim population. In the last 20 years, in many bordering villages of Assam, the number of Muslim voters has increased by more than five times. In recent years, fewer than 2,500 illegal immigrants have been deported. No serious detection and deportation of illegal Muslims was done all these years due to minority appeasement policy and since identification and deporting them has failed, the only remedy is to reserve lands and jobs for only those Assamese who were a citizen before 1971. That will stop more migrants from coming to Assam,” Hazarika said.
Mishra said that the corruption among the BSF personnel who were stationed at the border was also an issue that needed to be tackled very sternly.
“38 battalions of BSF, which were kept in reserve for emergency situations, are being used in North East, in Left Wing Extremism affected areas and for election duty due to which our operations guarding the border have suffered. The minimum strength that is needed to guard the border is not there. We need more than the 50 existing Long-Range Reconnaissance and Observation Systems or LORROS (a sensor system to provide long-range daytime and night-time surveillance) that we presently have. Assam Police Border Organization (the only border patrolling force which is under a state government), which has 4,000 personnel should be given more importance. We need to give drones, satellite imagery to the forces to guard the border effectively. Until and unless these things are done, illegal immigration cannot stop,” opined Mishra.