The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the plea for grant of citizenship or refugee status to thousands of displaced persons, mostly in Assam, of minority communities like Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians due to their alleged religious persecution in Bangladesh.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi however, asked the petitioner NGOs Swajan and Bimolangshu Roy Foundation in Assam to implead the states of West Bengal and Meghalaya in the writ petition and posted the matter for further hearing after two weeks.
The apex court was initially disinclined to entertain the PIL but agreed to consider the issue after senior counsel M N Krishnamani and Pinky Anand, on behalf of the NGOs, submitted the issued involved the future of two lakh migrants spread over not only Assam but also West Bengal and Meghalaya.
The petition filed through counsel Shuvodeep Roy stated that in spite of a specific mandate of Section 2 of Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 protecting from expulsion victims of civil disturbances, no measures have been taken either by the Centre or Assam to provide ameliorative steps for displaced persons.
It was submitted that citizenship was granted to similarly affected persons from Pakistan and Bangladesh by Citizenship (Amendment) Rules, 2004, for minority Hindu community people who were displaced as a result of the 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan and they were settled in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
“A new procedure was worked out between the years 2004 and 2007 by an executive action by the Centre. This facilitated the grant of citizenship of India to these persons under the provisions of Citizenship Act, 1955,” the petition said.
Citing the cut-off date of 25.3.1971 fixed by the Centre for granting citizenship to the migrants in the wake of the Assam Accord, the petition said victimisation of minorities continues even after the cut-off date and hence their case should also be considered sympathetically.
“In the facts of the present case, the ‘displaced persons’ also deserve protection in our country and the status of ‘refugees’ under the International Conventions, namely the Refugee Convention, 1951, and 1967 Protocol Relating to Status of Refugees; Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, New York, 1984 and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 2006,” it said.
The NGOs submitted that in the past, too in the cases of refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and also Chakma refugees from Bangladesh settled in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, the government of India has consistently followed the policy of granting them citizenship or refugee status.
However, in the present case, the displaced persons are being “condemned as ‘illegal migrants’ and are being ‘pushed-back’ into no-man’s land in Indo-Bangladesh borders rendering them stateless and left there in precarious and inhabitable conditions, to perish, the NGOS said.
“What is alarming is that there is also no formal agreement, treaty etc. With the government of Bangladesh for repatriation/rehabilitation of the ‘displaced persons’. Bangladesh even does not own up these unfortunate persons and as a result they have nowhere and no one to turn to,” the petition said.
Hence, the apex court is urged to give appropriate directions to the Centre and Assam government to ensure the protection and grant of citizenship or refugee status to the said displaced persons, the petitioners said.