The National Register of Citizens (hereinafter referred to as NRC) is a register of all Indian Citizens which is envisaged under Section 14 A of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). It was inserted through an Amendment Act of 2003. Its main purpose was to document all the legal citizens of India so that illegal immigrants can be identified and deported. To carry out NRC, Central Government in the exercise of the powers conferred by sub-sections (1) and (3) of Section 18 of the Act, enacted THE CITIZENSHIP (REGISTRATION OF CITIZENS AND ISSUE OF NATIONAL IDENTITY CARDS) RULES, 2003 (hereinafter referred to as the Rules).
Rule 3 of 2003 Rules provides for the establishment and maintenance of NRC. Rule 4 deals with the preparation of the NRC of Indian Citizens but Rule 4 A carves out special provisions in the matter of preparation of NRC in the state of Assam. Although the final version of the NRC in Assam was released by the government of India on 31.08.2019 NRC in the rest of India has been put on the back burner.
Given the geographical conditions of West Bengal, many Bangladeshis and Rohingyas constantly cross international borders surreptitiously. They are called Illegal immigrants. Some other types of illegal immigrants include those who come with forged visas/documents or those who came with valid visas/documents but overstayed.
In practice, it is very difficult to make a realistic estimate of the number of illegal immigrants, including Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, because they enter surreptitiously and are able to mingle easily with the local population due to ethnic and linguistic similarities. The demographic composition in the districts of Assam and West Bengal bordering Bangladesh has altered with the illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The population density of West Bengal has increased from 296 persons per sq km in 1951 to 1028 persons per sq km in 2011, given that state’s total fertility rate is lower than the national average. It has declined from 4.2 in 1981 to 1.6 in 2017. It is also worth noting that as per data from Census 2011, the state’s Muslim Population share has increased from 19.85% in 1947 to 27.01% in 2011. It is very likely that this share will be around 30% in the next census. All the illegal immigrants, including Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, are sitting in West Bengal and other neighboring states bordering Bangladesh and affecting the growth of the state and national interests of the country. It is also very likely that many of them have enrolled themselves as voters and acquired identity cards by forged means. It is also a matter of fact that the districts of Assam and West Bengal bordering Bangladesh have recorded a growth of population higher than the national average. The states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura have also recorded high rates of population growth. Rohingyas and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have also been using West Bengal as a corridor to migrate to other parts of the Country.
Consequences of large-scale illegal immigration
The adverse impact of uncontrolled illegal immigration of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas needs to be emphatically stressed upon both for the people of the state of West Bengal and more for the Nation as a whole. As a result of this, the cultural identity of indigenous Bengali Hindus is at stake and if illegal immigrants are not identified and deported as soon as possible, undoubtedly, they will be reduced to a minority in their home state. Their employment opportunities will be undermined.
The influx of these illegal immigrants is turning many bordering districts of West Bengal into a Muslim majority region. It will be then only a matter of time that when a demand for their merger with Bangladesh may be made. The rapid growth of international Islamic fundamentalism may provide for driving force for this demand.
In recent times, many incidents of a mob attacking Hindus are being reported from the state of West Bengal which is acting as push factors for the indigenous Hindu population and they are forced to flee and seek shelter in neighboring states like Assam, Odisha, and Jharkhand. Although it is the duty of the state government to maintain Law and order in the state, it is the duty of the Central Government to identify and deport illegal immigrants in this country. It is certain that law and order in West Bengal has been defeated by infiltrators comprising Bangladeshis and Rohingyas. The only solution to solve this problem of law and order is to carry out NRC as soon as possible and Central Government should take steps to implement it for the people of West Bengal in the larger interest of the nation.
(Pankaj Singh is a Former Expert on Mission to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Advocate at the Supreme Court of India.
Gautam Jha is an Advocate on Record at the Supreme Court of India.)