Union Minister Kiren Rijiju has said the Centre will urge the Supreme Court to modify its order of granting citizenship to Chakma-Hajong refugees so that the rights of the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh are not diluted.
"There is no decision of the Government of India to grant citizenship. It is the order of the Supreme Court. We are trying to tell the honourable Supreme Court that giving Chakmas and Hajongs the same rights as Arunachali is not acceptable to us," he said.
"People of Arunachal must appreciate that for the first time that the Government of India has not agreed.... So we are appealing to the apex court to modify this order... to ensure that rights of the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh are protected," the Minister of State for Home Affairs told reporters at Naharlagun helipad yesterday.
His remarks come days after he stated that a "middle ground" would be chosen so that the 2015 Supreme Court order to grant citizenship to Chakma-Hajong refugees can be honoured and the rights of the local population are not diluted.
"I am very clear. I don't care about any other thing. I think about my people. I value human rights and constitutional norms, but everything will be meaningful to me if all rights of our people are protected," the minister said yesterday.
Mr Rijiju said that the state government should identify and evict all illegal occupants and wondered how they could encroach upon large areas, including national parks.
He said that the population of Chakma and Hajong refugees rose to over 64,000, when originally 2,748 families comprising 14,888 people were settled between 1964 to 1969 in Bordumsa-Diyun areas in Changlang district and Kokila area of Papum Pare district.
"We were not in the government then. I am now protecting the interest of Arunachal Pradesh because all the damage had been done. I don't want further damage to be done," he has said.
On September 13, Mr Rjiju had said that "the Supreme Court order has to be honoured. Chakmas are settled in Arunachal Pradesh since 1964. But ST status and indigenous people's rights won't be diluted."
The Chakma-Hajong refugee issue has evoked strong resentment in the state with many organisations and political parties saying that granting of citizenship to the refugees would distort the social fabric of the state.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in erstwhile East Pakistan who left their homeland when it was submerged by the Kaptai dam project in the 1960s.
Mr Rijiju, however, wondered how the message has gone that it is the Centre's decision to grant citizenship to Chakmas and Hajong.
The Minister also asked why governments in Arunachal were unable to check the illegal entries of Chakma and Hajongs since 1964.
"These are the faults but right now I cannot go back and correct the past. But now I can ensure the protection of the rights of the indigenous people. As long as I am there I cannot allow diluting the rights of the indigenous people. That is my obligation and duty," Mr Rijiju has said.
He said that the BJP government in the state should start the process to evict the illegal encroachers. The previous government had failed to do it.
The Union Minister said that Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu had already given a commitment that proper enumeration would be done so that they (Chakma-Hajong) cannot encroach upon land in Arunachal Pradesh and the rights of the people.
The Arunachal Pradesh government has moved the Election Commission requesting it to delete the names of refugees from the voters' list, he said.
Mr Rijiju said that if they (Chakma-Hajong) want to come to the state they should come as any other Indian or foreigners with Inner Line Permit (ILP)/ Restricted Area Permit (RAP) but they cannot enjoy the status of Arunachalees.
On Tibetan Refugee Rehabilitation Policy, the Union Minister said that it was not a new policy but simply a renewal of the original policy adopted by the previous Congress regime at the centre.
There is nothing to debate as the policy which was adopted in 1959 was only renewed. The refugees are entitled to basic needs like water, education and healthcare, he said.
He has said that the Supreme Court in 2015 had directed the Centre as well as the state government to grant citizenship to Chakmas and Hajongs within three months.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU) has declared a state-wide dawn-to-dusk bandh tomorrow opposing the "Centre's decision to grant citizenship to the Chakmas and Hajongs in the state".
Mr Rijiju said that previous central governments settled Chakma and Hajong in the state through the NEFA administration and maintained that "they deserve to be citizens of the state which I had opposed tooth and nail".
The central government is trying to find a workable solution by proposing that the refugees will not be given rights, including land ownership, enjoyed by Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, an official had said.