Amidst the uproar over Rohingya Muslims, nearly one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees, who came from the erstwhile East Pakistan five decades ago, currently living in camps in the Northeast are set to get Indian citizenship.
The Chakma-Hajong refugee issue was discussed threadbare on Wednesday at a high-level meeting convened by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and attended by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval among others.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had directed the Central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees, mostly staying in Arunachal Pradesh.
"The Supreme Court order on Chakmas and Hajongs was discussed in the meeting. We need to implement the order as early as possible," a home ministry official said.
Several organisations and civil society in Arunachal Pradesh have been opposing citizenship to the refugees saying it would change the demography of the state.
The Centre is trying to find a workable solution to the issue by proposing that Chakma and Hajong refugees will not be given rights, including ownership of land, enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, the official said.
However, they may be given Inner Line permits, required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh to travel and work.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of Chittagong Hill Tracts in the erstwhile East Pakistan. They left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s.
The Chakmas, who are Buddhists, and the Hajongs, who are Hindus, also allegedly faced religious persecution and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram).
The Centre moved the majority of them to the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is now Arunachal Pradesh.
According to officials, their numbers have gone up from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to one lakh. At present, they don't have citizenship and land rights but are provided basic amenities by the state government.
The Arunachal Pradesh government approached the apex court to review its 2015 order but in vain. After the Supreme Court's rejection, both the Central and state governments started consultations to find a solution to the issue.
The initiative on the Chakma and Hajong refugees comes amid the ongoing row over the Central government's plans to deport Rohingya Muslims, who came to India due to alleged persecution in Myanmar.
Rijiju, who belongs to Arunachal Pradesh, has said Rohingyas were illegal immigrants. He also said that India absorbed the maximum number of refugees in the world.
On Monday, a top UN official Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein slammed India on the Rohingya Muslim issue. India had said that it would deport those Rohingya Muslims living illegally in India as they posed a security threat.