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Indifference marks Barak Valley's response to CAA applications as Assam polls near

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What was expected to bear the positive impact of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), intending applicants have given indifferent response to application under CAA in Assam’s Barak valley.
People are more concerned about getting their names cleared from the foreigner’s tribunal and abolition of detention camps. Two seats of the Barak valley Silchar and Barak valley are going to polls on April 26 and CAA outcome is not engaging the voters.

In Assam CAA has its proponents and opposition. Barak valley is believed to be a place where there are proponents of CAA. The Centre had in March implemented the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, notifying the rules four years after the law was passed by Parliament to fast-track citizenship for undocumented non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who came to India before December 31, 2014.

On April 8, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that till now in Assam only one person has applied for Indian citizenship under CAA. Earlier he was expecting at least 50,000 people from Barak valley applying under CAA.

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Recently Sarma anticipated about three-six lakh people will apply for Indian citizenship under the CAA in the state and these applicants will comprise only those who were excluded from the updated National Register NRC.Sarma in an interview to a local television channel said around 7 lakh Muslims and 5 lakh Hindu-Bengalis were left out of the NRC list. “Many Hindu-Bengalis had come at different points of time and stayed at refugee camps however when they applied for inclusion in NRC, they submitted a stamped paper as proof of having stayed at such camps. But Prateek Hajela (former NRC state coordinator) did not accept the paper. As a result, names of many Hindu-Bengalis were not included in the NRC.”He added, “Applicants excluded from the NRC also include 2 lakh Assamese caste Hindus like those having the Das (surname), the ‘Koch-Rajbongshi’ (community) and there are around 1.5 lakh Gorkhas.”A voter in Barak valley who does not want to be identified told ET, “The portal has seven pages where one must give details of phone number and email id. One must have a document that a person has come from Bangladesh. We have been voting for several years and why declare that I am a foreigner. Who wants to be declared as a foreigner.”

The initial euphoria over CAA has now waned. A large number of people want peoples’ names cleared by a foreigner’s tribunal. The Gauhati High Court has recently asked for departmental review of the references following submission made by the Assam government that almost 85% of the cases that came to the foreigners’ tribunals eventually resulted in the proceedees being declared Indians.

Foreigners’ tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies established under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964 and the Foreigners Act, 1946. According to a report of 2022 134,365 cases were registered in Assam’s 100 FTs and of these, 15,201 cases were disposed of, and 1,19,164 cases are pending.

D voters, or doubtful voters in Assam are those who have been disenfranchised due to doubts about their citizenship. There are 96,987 D voters in the state as of February this year.

The Assam government has changed the nomenclature of detention centres to Transit camp for detention purposes.

Gauhati High Court had earlier pulled up the Assam government for using parts of six jail premises as detention centres for housing foreigners staying illegally and not creating a separate facility for the inmates.

Centre had sanctioned the first standalone detention camp which will house declared foreigners. The camp in Goalpara district has come up with an investment of Rs 46 Crore. The first standalone detention camp has a capacity of 3500 persons.

Assam had witnessed violent protests in 2019 and early 2020 after Parliament passed the CAA, which makes minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible to apply for Indian citizenship. Five people were killed in the protests.

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