West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced that attempts will be made to regularise all refugee colonies on central government and private lands, PTI reported. Banerjee’s statement came amid the Bharatiya Janata Party’s recent insistence that it will implement the National Register of Citizens in West Bengal and the rest of the country.
The NRC was implemented in Assam to identify citizens of India and distinguish them from so-called “illegal immigrants”. It led to the exclusion of 19 lakh people, or 6% of Assam’s population, from the final NRC list published on August 31.
Banerjee told reporters in Kolkata that the Trinamool Congress government will also give land rights to the displaced people. “We have decided to regularise all the refugee settlements, solely because it has been a long time now – nearly 50 years,” Banerjee said. “Since [March] 1971, they have not received any land possession.”
During the 1971 East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) crisis and the resultant India-Pakistan war, millions of people fled East Pakistan and moved to India, especially West Bengal, as refugees.
The move is also seen as a preemptive measure against the Centre’s decision to table the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Parliament during the ongoing Winter Session. The bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in July 2016, aims to make crucial changes to the Citizenship Act of 1955. If passed, it would make undocumented immigrants – Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis – from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh eligible for citizenship.
“Those who are staying in refugee colonies for a long time do not have any right,” Banerjee said on Monday. “So we thought they should get the rights as citizens of this country. They may be voting in elections, may be working here, but don’t have proper land rights.” She added that over 13,000 families staying on land owned by the state government and and 12,000 families on central government’s lands will benefit.
The West Bengal chief minister has been vehemently opposing the introduction of the National Register of Citizens in the state. “There are few people, who are trying to create disturbance in the state in the name of implementation of the NRC,” Banerjee said at a rally in Murshidabad district’s Sagardighi town on November 20. “No one can take away your citizenship and turn you into a refugee. There can be no division on the basis of religion.”
The chief minister sought explanation from the Centre about rumours of NRC in West Bengal that have claimed at least 11 lives in the state till now. She sought to know why 14 lakh Hindus and Bengalis had been excluded from the final list in Assam.