Why doesn’t India have a National Immigration Policy?

Written by: Pathikrit
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In April 2013, Additional Sessions Judge, Rajender Kumar Shastri while sentencing four Bangladeshi robbers to 13 years in jail for a gruesome robbery case in South Delhi, made a landmark statement. He had stated, as was reported in The Times of India, "If the illegal migrants from neighbouring countries are counted together, they may form a population equal to a country of moderate size. They deprive local residents from their meagre incomes by pumping in cheap labour."

The honourable in this case was referring to the large number of illegal Bangladeshis, who have settled down in Delhi and elsewhere in the country and further stated, "The chief secretary is asked to identify the foreigners living in Delhi illegally and ensure that they are sent back to their respective countries as early as possible."

The issue of illegal immigrants creating ruckus is not just restricted to Bangladeshis only. The incidents of massive rioting by Nigerians only a few weeks back in Goa or the issue of drug syndicates and prostitution rackets being run by a large number of Nigerians across the major cities of India point towards a bigger void in India's lack of a comprehensive approach to deal with this menace.

What the Honourable Judge stated is an issue which most State Governments and even the Central Government of India prefer to gloss over. Vote bank politics, sheer indifference of state governments often complimented with the inability to look at the bigger picture, the quintessential blame games between the centre and the states on the issue of who is responsible for dealing with foreigners, have all contributed to a large number of illegal immigrants not just settling down in India but contributing immensely to the creation of all kind of criminal activities.

Therefore, the key question that needs deliberation is what is the reason for India's inability to grapple with this problem? When it comes to illegal Bangladeshis, one can still say that at times it becomes extremely difficult to identify and deport them since they look more or less the same like Indians from Eastern part of India and then there are issues of a porous border about which too India's approach has been too lackadaisical and shocking.

What is the reason for India's inability to grapple with this problem?

But how come people arrive all the way from a distant Africa and right under the nose of all institutions meant to take care of internal security of India, run organised drug syndicates and prostitution rackets? Is it not a national security issue? And where is the guarantee that tomorrow the same syndicates would not establish illegal arms rackets? If they are coming on student visa, is the Bureau of Immigration doing enough scrutiny to cross check that those coming through a student visa are genuine students?

These issues are real concerns for India and it requires a National Policy. It is this very absence of a national immigration policy that is at the root of India's inability to deal with this menace. The pacifist approach of presumption that getting strict with illegal immigrants from Africa committing nuisance in India would jeopardise India's relation with African states or would be tantamount to racism is bizarre. If US gets stricter with foreigners creating ruckus in US, and if US acts against them, even then no one dares to target a expat American in return. Such is the clout and fear of US. And neither has it ever become a reason for any nation to stop business with US since no one can afford to do that. For a country like India with the third largest economy in the world with a GDP (in terms of Purchasing Power Parity) near $5 trillion, is there any reason why India should always be so pacifist in its approach?

The same goes for India's inability to deal with the problem of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and even Pakistan. In India's quest to keep the pro-India Sheikh Hasina Government in good mood, India has even put restrictions on the right of the BSF jawans to shoot at intruders in spite of the grave danger such a directive may put the lives of the BSF jawans in. There have been several instances where BSF jawans were brutally beaten up and even killed by cross border cattle smugglers because they know BSF jawans have been barred from shooting back. Rampant illegal entry of Bangladeshis in several parts of India have already created major demographic problems.

The concept of people from Africa and even from India's neighbouring countries coming here for higher studies, medical treatment and even as tourists are all extremely good things. It is indeed a positive sign that India is gradually evolving as a major hub for medical tourism and low cost higher education. But at the same time, it is equally important to make sure that a student visa or a medical visa does not become an alibi or a front for coming to India to do illegal activities and vitiate the atmosphere here. It is not to say that all those who are coming are coming with wrong intentions. But as a nation India needs to have agencies who would be able to differentiate between the genuine from the bogus.

The concept of people from Africa and even from India's neighbouring countries coming here for higher studies, medical treatment and even as tourists are all extremely good things. It is indeed a positive sign that India is gradually evolving as a major hub for medical tourism and low cost higher education. But at the same time, it is equally important to make sure that a student visa or a medical visa does not become an alibi or a front for coming to India to do illegal activities and vitiate the atmosphere here. It is not to say that all those who are coming are coming with wrong intentions. But as a nation India needs to have agencies who would be able to differentiate between the genuine from the bogus.

India therefore not only needs a strong National Immigration and Deportation Act but also require an independent National Immigration and Deportation Agency. Ideally the agency should be immune from political interference which can only be expected to be extremely high given the vote bank politics and even the money involved in such illegal immigrations. The issue of illegal immigrants overstaying in India and resorting to nefarious activities cannot just be treated as a mere law & order issue but is essentially a national security issue. Enforcement of laws is extremely lax in India. During the Goa issue it was found that most of Nigerians arrested for the riot had no passport. Thus on this one, it is time to wake up before it is too late.

India's Home Ministry and External Affairs Ministry should realise the fact that strong enforcement through a dedicated agency is the need of the day to check the relentless entry of illegal immigrants in India. For a nation of 1.2 billion people, we have enough problems of our own to solve than to become a land of illegal immigrants and foreign drug pedlars. It is also very important for India's External Affairs ministry to shed the baggage of bilateral tie-ups and diplomatic relations when it comes to dealing with illegal foreigners in India. Larger diplomatic issues mean nothing if India if it creates turmoil and mayhem inside the country.

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