Data reveals that out of all the criminal cases from across India in which foreigners were booked, West Bengal came first with a whopping share of 49 per cent.
"Don't fall for rumours. They are saying detention camps will be set up here [West Bengal]. But who is in power here? I am ready to give my life but I will not allow BJP to set up detention camps in Bengal, never! Even if I have to die for it, I won't allow."
These were the words of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee while speaking at an event in Naihati, North 24 Parganas district, on Friday (27 December 2019).
However, while the Bengal Chief Minister said that “there won't be any detention centre in Bengal", it had come to light last week that her government approved the construction of at least two detention centres earlier this year.
The state government has officially confirmed plans for two sites — New Town, Kolkata and Bongaon in North 24 Parganas — to set up detention centres for convicted foreign nationals awaiting deportation.
The Problem Of Illegal Immigration
Madhur Sharma, editor of The Indian Dispatch, looked at the the latest data [PDF] published by the National Crime Records Bureau regarding the problem of illegal immigration in the state of West Bengal. He notes:
The data reveals that out of all the criminal cases from across India in which foreigners were booked, West Bengal came first with a whopping share of 49 per cent.
Out of the total 1,098 cases registered against foreigners in 2017 in the state, 1,034 were for violation of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 — laws concerning entry, exit, and stay of foreign nationals in the country.
The data also reveals that a vast majority of those booked under these laws are largely Bangladeshi nationals, way more than any other nationality.
The Census data shows that the proportion of Muslims in West Bengal has grown from 19.85 per cent in 1951 to 27.01 per cent in 2011. This in itself doesn’t speak about the extent of illegal immigration, as the numbers maybe due to higher birth rate among Muslims.
However, when growth rates in border areas are compared with the state-wise rates, it becomes clear that the former are seeing much higher population growth. This cannot be attributed to the Muslim population growth rate, as the comparison with the non-border areas with majority Bengali-speaking Muslim population show similar results.
Illegal Immigration And TMC
The illegal immigration from Bangladesh into West Bengal was allowed to continue unabated by successive administrations for electoral gains, many experts have said. According to a 2007 Financial Express report, when the Left was in power, the local Left leaders actively helped the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants settle in the state.
The state government has reports that illegal Bangladeshi migrants have trickled into parts of rural Bengal, including Nandigram, over the years, and settled down as sharecroppers with the help of local Left leaders. Though a majority of these immigrants became tillers, they lacked documents to prove the ownership of land.
The report states that as long as the illegals remained loyal to the Left, things were peaceful. However, after the Left government declared its intention to hand over 14,000 acres of land to Indonesian Salim group for an SEZ, violence erupted.
“Taking advantage of the situation, outfits like Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind and Trinamool started consolidating in the area.”
The rise of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal coincided with the disaffection of the illegal immigrants-turned-farmer away from the Left.
The party continued its appeasement politics with several measures like allowance to imams and banning Hindu processions when they coincided with Muharram. The state government was also accused of backing the Muslim mobs in the Barsirhat riots.
The appeasement by TMC was so brazen that the Mamata-led government was thrice chided by the Calcutta High Court.
On 6 October 2016, Justice Dipankar Dutta said: “There has been a clear endeavour on the part of the state government to pamper and appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification”.
Challenges Of Illegal Immigration
Apart from demographic challenges, linkages found between illegal immigrants and underground gangs, terrorist organisations and insurgent groups also pose serious security concerns.
Even when not directly involved into terrorism, the illegal immigrants contribute to the security challenges through illegal arms supply, fake currency rackets and drug running.
Moreover, since immigration is illegal, it is difficult to trace their networks and secret locations.
Arrest of a Bangladeshi national, S M Alam, in January 2008 by Assam Police revealed the ISI’s plan to turn the northeast into a volatile region.
A 2010 seminar chaired by National Security Adviser Ajit K Doval pointed out that Islamist groups are growing in Bangladesh. Organisations such as Jamait-e-Islami-e-Hind, Jamait-Ahle-Hadis, Students Islamic Organization (SIO), Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Tabligh-e-Jamat are actively trying to expand their base on this side of the border.
They are also using Kolkata and Agartala as bases being close to the border and people from both sides speak the same language. There are also groups which are directly involved in subversive activities such as HUJI.
The report also noted that there has been a growth of unauthorised, illegal madrassas all over West Bengal, particularly along the Bangladesh border.
It further noted that the Muslim population in Siliguri and adjoining areas has grown at an astonishing “150 per cent in the past seven years”, and the villages in and around Siliguri often act as a haven for ISI operatives.
“The villages have some 2,000 Pashto and Baloch settlers from Afghanistan along with 6,000 Iraninas. The increased activity of the ISI has endangered the security of the Siliguri corridor. ISI attempted sabotage in 1999 following a bomb blast at New Jalpaiguri Station,” it read.