Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, a key BJP leader in the Northeast, said on Wednesday that once the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed, no person of a non-Muslim faith will be sent to detention camps for illegal foreigners.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a press conference in Guwahati on Wednesday, the minister said, “After the CAB is passed, Assam detention camps will be shut for Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians. Regarding the other population, it is for the court to take a call. Detention camps are there because of a court order, not because the state government wants them.”
Assam has six detention centres currently but they are housed in district jails. Over a 1000 people are currently lodged in these camps. A seventh centre, exclusively for detaining “illegal foreigners”, is under construction in Goalpara district.
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Sarma, when asked to comment on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s opposition to both the CAB and detention centres, said, “You cannot have both — if there is no CAB then there will be detention camps. Mamata Banerjee should clarify on a public platform what exactly she wants. Actually, she is hesitating to say what she actually wants to say, that is — ‘I will support CAB if Muslims are also included’. We want her to say that openly. Why talk indirectly? I don’t want detention camps and I don’t want CAB – can both go together? She is saying something illogical and not achievable. If you are foreigner, you will have to be sent to a detention camp.”
Sarma’s comment come days after a Bengali Hindu Dulal Paul, who was also a mental health patient, was lodged in a detention camp and died during treatment at a hospital. His family took his body after ten days of protest on Tuesday. “The CM Sarbananda Sonowal has assured the family that the government will provide legal assistance in contesting Paul’s ‘foreigner’ status in the Supreme Court and a review committee will be formed to look into cases of people who claim that they are wrongly declared as foreigners,” Sadhan Paul, Dulal’s nephew, said. A senior state government official confirmed that a review committee will be formed soon.