Kolkata: At a time Rohingyas are fleeing Myanmar because of what many are calling a genocide by the army in that country, the Indian government has issued an advisory to deport Rohingyas sheltering here. But the West Bengal government has decided to give refugee cards issued by the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) to 24 Rohingya children sheltering in juvenile homes across the state.
Dr Shashi Panja, Minister of State, Women and Child Development and Social Welfare, was to do the honours at 3 pm on Wednesday at the SMM Home at Liluah in Howrah. But at the very last minute, she cancelled her visit.
"Dr Panja was suddenly taken ill," said Roshni Sen, secretary of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare.
The refugee card handover programme, the media was told, would be held at a later date.
Besides Ms Sen, several other officials came for the function - the district magistrate, head of the state child rights commission and local Trinamool MLA. They all stayed on to plant saplings and watch the children's cultural presentation. But said not a word about the sudden cancellation of the main event.
And it was sudden. According to officials of the Home, banners had been put up in the hall announcing the handover of UNHCR cards to Rohingya children - 12 girls from Liluah Home itself and another 12 from other homes. But half an hour before the minister was to arrive, they were told to take it off.
When news of Wednesday's function emerged, some felt Mamata Banerjee was opening a new front in her war with the Centre. Minority appeasement, claimed others. Rohingyas are Muslims. The sudden cancellation has triggered speculation that she may have got cold feet.
The state government had been sent a Ministry of Home advisory of 8th August 2017 about detecting and deporting illegal immigrants. The advisory was sent to all chief secretaries.
"Detection and deportation of ...illegal immigrants from the Rakhine State, also known as Rohingyas, is a continuous process. It is essential to identify such illegal migrants/persons and also keep a watch on their activities for preventing any untoward incident ....All states are advised to sensitise all law enforcement and intelligence agencies for taking prompt steps in identifying the illegal migrants and initiate their deportation process expeditiously and without delay," the notification said.
Since then, human rights groups have opposed the advisory and the matter is also in court. But had the minister not suddenly fallen ill, the West Bengal government may have violated home affairs guidelines and faced serious consequences.