NEW DELHI: The government, citing inputs available with it, told the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday that there were around 2 crore Bangladeshi immigrants staying illegally in India.
The rise in the number of illegal Bangaldeshi immigrants, which almost equals the size of the entire population of Australia, shows a rise of around 67% over the 1.2 crore estimate given out by the UPA government in 2004 but withdrawn soon after.
“There are reports of Bangladeshi nationals having entered the country without valid travel documents. Since entry of such Bangladeshi nationals into the country is clandestine and surreptitious, it is not possible to have accurate data of such Bangladeshi nationals living in the various parts of the country. As per available inputs, there are around 20 million (2 crore) illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in India,” Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju said in written reply to a question posed by Rajya Sabha MP Jharna Das Baidya.
The 20 million estimate far surpasses the figure of 12 million cited by then minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal in 2004 in the same House.
Jaiswal had, in reply to a question dated July 15, 2004, said that 1,20,53,950 illegal Bangladeshi migrants were residing in 17 states and Union territories as on December 31, 2001. He also said Assam alone accounted for 50 lakh Bangladeshi squatters, while their number in West Bengal was estimated to be the highest at 57 lakh.
The BJP, which was then the main opposition party, demanded that the 12 lakh illegal Bangladeshi immigrants be identified and deported. As a political storm brewed in states like Assam, Jaiswal withdrew his reply, dismissing the 12 million figure as one based on “unreliable reports” and “hearsay”.
However, a Union minister on Wednesday said it was a conscious decision by Modi government to highlight the 20 million estimate of illegal Bangladeshi migrants residing in India. “Unlike UPA, we won’t be cowed down by pressure to deny the figure as ‘hearsay’,” said the minister.
Incidentally, Rijiju’s reply does not dwell on a definite strategy of the government to identify and deport the 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants. “Deportation of illegally staying foreign nationals is continuous process. The powers of identification, detention and deportation of illegal foreign nationals including Bangladeshi nationals have been delegated to the state governments and Union territories under Section 3(2)(c) of the Foreigners Act, 1946,” he stated.
BJP is in power in Assam, which with West Bengal shows the highest incidence of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal
had, after coming to power in May this year, declared his intent to update the national register of citizens (NRC) in Assam and seal Indo-Bangladesh border in the state in two years.
West Bengal, however, may be at odds with the Centre’s assessment of number of Bangladeshi immigrants staying illegally within its jurisdiction.