NEW DELHI, Sept 3 - Assam has now been placed under protected area category by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs following the controversy generated by the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
All foreign journalists working in Assam have been asked to leave the State. A female reporter of wire agency Associated Press (AP) was recently escorted by the Assam Police to the airport and put in the next available flight to Delhi, sources in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia told this newspaper.
“She was politely told by Assam government officials to leave the State and first procure the necessary permission from the Government of India,” sources added.
Till now foreign media were barred from entering only Jammu and Kashmir and a few hills states of the Northeast on reporting assignments. But now, Assam has been added in the protected area list along with other northeastern states, Home Ministry sources said.
When contacted sources in the Ministry of External Affairs said that foreign journalists will now have to seek permission from the MEA and subject to final clearance by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the go ahead will be given.
The development comes in the wake of publication of the final NRC in Assam and widespread news reports in foreign media, which were mostly critical of the NRC exercise.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar on Sunday clarifed that the NRC was not an executive-driven process, but rather an exercise mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court. “There have been some commentaries in a section of foreign media about aspects of final NRC which are incorrect,” he added.
Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi has voiced concern at the publication of the NRC in Assam that could leave some 1.9 million people in danger of becoming stateless.
“I appeal to India to ensure that no one is rendered stateless by this action, including by ensuring adequate access to information, legal aid, and legal recourse in accordance with the highest standards of due process,” he said in a statement in Geneva.
Although the nationality status of the approximately 1.9 million people left off the NRC is not known, many are at risk of statelessness if they do not have another nationality, the UNHCR warned.
“Any process that could leave large numbers of people without a nationality would be an enormous blow to global efforts to eradicate statelessness,” Grandi warned in his reaction late on Sunday.
The UNHCR also urged the government to take action over any similar processes that could occur in other Indian states and urged authorities not to deport anyone whose nationality had not been verified.
The UN agency also repeated its offer to help the Indian government determine people’s nationality and prevent statelessness “in accordance with its mandate and international standards”.