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Thursday, September 26, 2013

SC mulls case of refugees - Apex court asks Centre & Dispur to respond to PIL

SC mulls case of refugees 
- Apex court asks Centre & Dispur to respond to PIL


New Delhi, July 25: The Supreme Court today sought the Union and Assam governments' response on a PIL seeking refugee/permanent citizen status for "thousands" of Indian-origin minorities in Bangladesh persecuted by alleged religious fundamentalists there.

The PIL alleges that while the Centre had taken steps to give citizenship to hundreds of Indians persecuted in Pakistan, similar relief was not being granted to those who have escaped persecution in Bangladesh.

A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued notices to the two governments on the joint PIL filed by two Assam-based NGOs — Swajan and Bimolangshu Roy Foundation — highlighting the plight of Indian-origin minorities in Bangladesh who have been forced to flee for the past few years because of religious persecution and have settled down in India, especially Assam.

Appearing for the NGOs, senior counsel Pinky Anand and counsel P. Bagchi said the issue concerned the lives of thousands of people from minority communities (comprising Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians) of Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan), who have been compelled to take shelter in India but are not being given refugee status or citizenship by the Indian government despite repeated requests.

According to the petitioners, Parliament had enacted the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 and incorporated Section 2 to specifically protect from "expulsion" any person "who on account of civil disturbances or fear of such disturbances" in any area forming part of Pakistan (now Bangladesh), "has been displaced from or has left his place of residence and has been subsequently residing in Assam". But no measures have been taken to provide further ameliorative steps for displaced persons.

"The act was enacted as early as in 1950 and even now the government recognises the fact of displaced person. No further steps have been taken to settle the status of such persons. This is in marked contrast to the policy adopted by the government in respect of similarly displaced person," the petition says.

The petitioners recalled that the Assam movement and the signing of Assam Accord on August 15, 1985 had paved the way for amendment of Citizenship Act, 1955 with Section 6A, which mandated special provisions for registration of persons covered under the accord as "citizens".

The Assam Accord decided on March 25, 1971 (Bangladesh's liberation) as the cut-off date for granting Indian citizenship to persons of Indian origin who came to Assam before that date. The amendment, however, makes no distinction between the "displaced" victims of civil disturbances and otherwise.

The NGOs urged the apex court to direct the government to ensure segregation of the victims of civil disturbances (in the form of their religious persecution) from those who are not so victimised, even after the cut-off date.

"The need for such segregation arises because the victimisation of these persons continues even beyond the cut-off date," the NGO said.

It said the "displaced persons" also deserve protection in India and the status of "refugees" under International Conventions.

According to the petition, cases of around 4 lakh persons are pending before Foreigners Tribunals in Assam. These include cases of "displaced persons" belonging to minority communities of Bangladesh who have been forced to take shelter in Assam. "They are also being clubbed with illegal migrants and meted out similar harsh treatment," the petition says, pleading for segregation of their cases and appropriate relief in the form of refugee and citizenship status.

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