NEW DELHI, Sept 13 - In what could spark trouble in the Northeast, the Centre has decided to grant limited citizenship to nearly one lakh Chakma and Hajong refugees living in Arunachal Pradesh.The Chakma-Hajong refugee issue was discussed at a high-level meeting here today. The meeting convened by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was attended by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, among others.
According to the Centre, over a lakh of Chakma and Hajong refugees, who came from the erstwhile East Pakistan almost five decades ago and currently living in camps in the state, are set to get Indian citizenship.
Despite opposition from the Arunachal Pradesh government, the Centre’s hands were tied by a 2015 order of the Supreme Court, when it directed the Central government to grant citizenship to the Chakma and Hajong refugees.
“The Supreme Court order on Chakmas and Hajongs was discussed in the meeting. We need to implement the order as early as possible,” an official said.
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, the refugees may be given the Inner Line permits, which are required for non-locals in Arunachal Pradesh, allowing them to travel and work, sources 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.
Chakmas and Hajongs were originally residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the erstwhile East Pakistan who 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 there and entered India through the then Lushai Hills district of Assam (now Mizoram).
The Centre moved the majority of them to the then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh.
According to officials, the number of these refugees has increased from about 5,000 in 1964-69 to 1,00,000. Currently, they do not possess citizenship and land rights, but are provided basic amenities by the state government.
In 2015, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to confer citizenship to these refugees.
The Arunachal Pradesh government approached the Supreme Court to review its order. After the apex court’s rejection, both the Central and Arunachal Pradesh governments have started consultations to find a solution to the issue.
In contrast, the Centre has taken a tough stand against the Rohingya refugees. Rijiju had said that the Rohingyas were illegal immigrants and stand to be deported. He had also said that India absorbed the maximum number of refugees in the world.