CAB to be brought again: Amit Shah

GUWAHATI, Sep 9: The citizenship amendment bill (CAB) has not been consigned to oblivion and will be brought again, union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Monday, but sought to soothe the concerns of the northeastern states, insisting that special laws specific to the region would not be touched.
Shah also asserted that the Centre intends to expel all illegal immigrants not just from Assam but the entire country.
Visiting the Assam capital for the first time since the vexed final National Register of Citizens, which validates Indian citizenship of the residents of Assam, was published on 31 August, the BJP chief also sought to quell apprehensions about scrapping of Article 371.
Article 371 applies to several states in the Northeast and grants them special powers with regard to religious and social practices, and observance of law and order.
“We will ensure that existing laws of all states of the region remain as they are even after the introduction of the CAB.
We have no intention to touch any of these laws applicable to different states of the region,” Shah told a meeting of the BJP’s allies who are part of the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
He was addressing the 4th conclave of the NEDA, which is the northeastern version of the Centre’s ruling National Democratic Alliance.
Shah was responding to concerns voiced by chief ministers Conrad Sangma of Meghalaya, Neiphu Rio of Nagaland, and Mizoram’s Zoramthanga.
Addressing the conclave, they had voiced fears about the consequences of reintroducing the CAB, as it could alter the demography of their states. They wanted that their states be kept out of the purview of the CAB.
The CAB had been passed by the Lok Sabha on 8 January but could not be tabled in the Rajya Sabha following outrage in several parts of the country, particularly the Northeast, where the BJP’s allies led by Sangma were up in arms against it.
The bill provides for according Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India, instead of 12 years (which is the norm currently), even if they do not possess any document.
The home minister also asserted that even the cut-off date for the CAB will remain 31 December, 2014.
“It is very clear from our side that there will be no other date and Article 371 along with the inner line permits (ILP) will not be touched,” he added.
The ILP is an official travel document issued by the government of India to grant permission for inward travel to an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indians residing outside those states where the ILP is in force to obtain prior permission to enter protected areas.
Shah also asserted that the Centre intends to expel all illegal immigrants not just from Assam but the entire country.
The BJP president also accused successive Congress governments of having alienated the region from the rest of the country.
“Our intention is to expel illegal immigrants from the entire country and not just Assam,” he declared.
He alleged that the prolonged militancy in the Northeast was because the Congress hardly cared for the region.
“The Congress governments sowed the seeds of strife in the Northeast. The party did not care for the Northeast and because of that militancy flourished. It always believed in the policy of divide and rule,” he alleged.
Shah also sought to reemphasize the distinction between Article 370 of the constitution pertaining to Jammu & Kashmir that the Centre revoked to strip the restive state of its special status, and Article 371.
“Article 371 is a permanent provision, while Article 370 was temporary,” he said.
“I hope, with these assurances, all apprehensions of the chief ministers of the Northeast regarding the CAB and the special provisions have been allayed,” he said.
“Today all the northeastern states are united as one under the umbrella of the NEDA, and this platform can become the game-changer for the region. All pending issues can be resolved amicably and a united effort can be made for the development of each state,” he said.
As all the states are now related to each other, courtesy the NEDA, Shah called for resolving all the interstate boundary issues amicably through dialogues.
Shah suggested that all the states of the region make concerted effort to boost tourism in the region instead of making state-specific plans and policies. He advised that the chief ministers or tourism ministers of all the states come together and make a comprehensive ‘Northeast tourism package’ that would serve the Northeast on a platter to the world outside, instead of each state presenting itself separately.
Stating that flood protection and hydropower are subjects not exclusive to any one state, he advised that all the states come together and work out a comprehensive region-specific plan for flood protection works and development of hydropower.
“Some subjects are not exclusive to any one state. These are to be resolved working together, and the NEDA can be the best platform for this,” Shah said, adding that the central government is giving top priority to the Northeast and is ever ready to help.
Echoing Shah, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu said the interstate boundary issue has been pending for long, hampering development in the foothills of Arunachal that share a very long boundary with Assam.
He appealed to all the chief ministers of the NE to come together and seriously take up the issue for a lasting solution.
Union MoS (Independent) for Youth Affairs & Sports Kiren Rijiju, MoS for FPI Rameswar Teli, all the MPs of the NEDA, ministers and MLAs from states, regional party offices bearers and BJP leaders attended the meeting.
After addressing the conclave, the BJP chief held a meeting with the chief ministers of all the eight states of the Northeast.
Later, speaking to journalists, Assam minister and NEDA convenor, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said Shah had addressed many concerns voiced by the chief ministers.
He said one of their foremost concerns was about the ILP.
“Shah made it clear that the new CAB will ensure that its provisions do not override the 6th schedule of the constitution,” he said, adding that it effectively meant that unless a person got the ILP or the 6th schedule authority allowed one to stay in a particular state, nobody from outside could go there.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma called the meeting “very positive” where there was a convergence of views that both national and regional concerns be addressed.
“The home minister asked us to go ahead and have further consultations with local organisations and political parties, so that any kind of misconception regarding the bill can be cleared,” Sangma said.
He said no deadline has been set for the proposed reintroduction of the bill.
Khandu said Shah made it clear that laws protecting the indigenous people will not be touched. “In fact, he said that, if needed, these local laws can even be made stricter,” he said.
Arunachal is among the northeastern states where an outsider is required to obtain an ILP for a visit.
The CAB will be drafted keeping in mind these issues, Khandu said. (PTI & CMO)