With an amended version of the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) already set to be tabled in Parliament in the ongoing winter session, the identity issue has once again surfaced as the focal point in Meghalaya.
The Meghalaya government is seeking to amend the Meghalaya Residents’ Safety and Security Act of 2016 through an Ordinance, which will make it compulsory to those visiting the state for more than 24 hours to get a permit.
Many critics of the ordinance, which is lying on the table of Governor Tathagat Roy, say this is akin to introducing the Inner Line Permit (ILP) through the back door.
With the state sharing over 440 kms of border with Bangladesh, there is fear among the people of Meghalaya that immigrants of Hindu origin from Bangladesh will come and settle down in the state if Parliament approves the CAB. The state also shares border with Assam, where the NRC has already become controversial.
A delegation, including Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong was in Delhi last week. Tynsong is stated to be handling the Ordinance issue. When this correspondent asked Tynsong about the Ordinance, his spontaneous response was, “Ask the Chief Minister. I have no idea. Ask the political department.”
The security Act of 2016 was brought in by the then Congress government to provide a sense of security to residents and facilitate fund allocation to them. It had also identified locations for facilitation centres. But the Act was not executed by the state government that followed, Congress workers complained.
The Act was drafted and approved in principle in 2016 and subsequently, rules were framed in 2018, say insiders and the Cabinet has now approved the draft of an ordinance in 2019. It is believed that two-three sections have been added to the original Act and submitted to the Governor last week.
Earlier also several groups had lobbied for some kind of Inner Line Permit, which is operational in Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. The then Congress government in Meghalaya did not concede the demand though.
According to a leader privy to the process at that time, it was felt that ILP “discouraged tourism”. The ILP, it was believed, would be perceived as “harassment” by visitors, who might come into the state for a short stay, even for a day or two. It would be a “deterrent” for the livelihood of a large section of locals dependent on tourism. Subsequently, it was agreed that the identity of the locals could be protected through a different set of checks and balances incorporated in the Residents’ security Act.
In the backdrop of the protests against CAB and growing demand for the ILP and the Ordinance lying in the Governor’s office for approval, former Tourism Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh emphasised the need for notifying all stakeholders.
She hoped that the district collectors of North Garo Hill, South Garo Hill, West Khasi Hill and Amlarem have been notified so that they in turn can put things in place.