The Arunachal Pradesh government will fight a legal battle in the Supreme Court “with all preparations” so that the 73,000-odd Chakma and Hajong refugees living in the state do not get citizenship with the help of the amended Citizenship Act, the Assembly was informed on Wednesday. Chakma and Hajong refugees came from erstwhile East Pakistan – now Bangladesh – five decades ago.
The Supreme Court had directed the Centre in 2015 that they are accorded Indian citizenship. Several organisations in Arunachal Pradesh have been opposing the idea of granting citizenship to them saying it would change the demography of the state.
The state government had filed a review petition on October 26, 2015 against the apex court’s judgement of according citizenship to the refugees but it was rejected, Chief Minister Pema Khandu said during the Question Hour. Responding to a query from Congress MLAs Nabam Tuki and Wanglin Lowangdong, he also said the state government then filed a special leave petition on September 14, 2016, which was admitted by the Supreme Court and the hearing is awaited.
Khandu said, following another SC verdict of 1996, the state government has been providing basic amenities such as health care, education, electricity and water to the Chakma and Hajong refugees living in Changlang, Namsai and Papumpare districts.
Asked by Lowangdong about the possibility of the refugees moving the Supreme Court claiming themselves as the natives of the state following amendment of the Citizenship Act, Khandu said the state government will fight the case “with all preparations”.
The Chakmas who are Buddhists, and the Hajongs who are Hindus, allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam, now Mizoram. According to the amended Act, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 after facing religious persecution there will not be treated as illegal immigrants and will be given Indian citizenship after they reside in India for five years.
Khandu said, all the 4,637 applications for citizenship by the Chakmas and Hajongs have been recommended with negative remarks by the state government and the matter now in the court of the Union Home Ministry.
According to a survey of 2015-16, the total number of Chakma and Hajong refugees in the three districts is 73,780. Changlang district has 65,875 refugees, followed by 5,348 in Namsai district and 2,257 in Papumpare, Khandu said.
In response to another query on alleged encroachment of forest land and illegal tree felling by the refugees in Changlang district, the chief minister said he would convene a meeting of the principal chief conservator of forest and other officials concerned on January 10 to review the situation.
The Arunachal Pradesh Assembly in October 2017 adopted a resolution to call upon the Centre to immediately take steps to protect the territorial and other rights of the tribals in the state if granting of citizenship to Chakmas and Hajongs is considered. Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in erstwhile East Pakistan. They left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s. Khandu said a total of 7,072 Tibetan refugees also stay West Kameng, Lohit, Upper Siang and Changlang districts of the state.