Illegal migration is still listed as one of the main problems of North East India and in particular in Meghalaya. The illegal migrants have entered the country for decades together and on most occasions, they are directly or indirectly encouraged because of various reasons. A business friend who is involved in Pandal and Catering business once shared, that he would prefer none locals at any point of time because of cheap labour and secondly because they are ready to work 365 days in a year and stay up all night to meet any deadline for big events.
Additionally, the kind of finest that they have in doing the Pandals is remarkable. Similarly, another business friend who is into furniture, interiors and polishing prefers none locals as it is easy to manage them – provide a room for them to stay and cook, other than that, their labour is comparatively less and they are also able to perform and deliver on time. Contractors too prefer them, because the kind of services that they provide is incomparable to what is available. I will not speak beyond what is good and bad. I am just stating the scenario as it is.
There has been a fear among the indigenous people of North East against an “illegal immigrant influx”, its effects and long-term damages. North East India shares borders with countries such as China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Of late, and especially after the Centre approved the Citizenship Act, groups in Meghalaya want the ILP to be made applicable in their State without delay. It is the fear of indigenous people losing their land, identity and future that has led them to search for possible solutions to the problem. Meghalaya shares a 443-km border with Bangladesh (Hasnat, 2020).
According to the Constitution of India, all Indian citizens are free to live and work in any State of the country, but entry to certain states with a protected status requires authorisation by the concerned State government i.e special permissions are required to visit these areas. Such a permit authorising an Indian citizen to enter a protected area is referred to as an ‘inner line permit’ as it grants entry to areas lying between the international boundary and the so-called “Inner Line” of the country.
Inner Line Permit is an official travel document issued by the concerned State government to allow inward travel of an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. It is obligatory for Indian citizens from outside those States to obtain a permit for entering into the protected State. The document is an effort by the government to regulate movement to certain areas located near the international border of India. The insertion of Section 6B in the principal of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act limits its applicability to areas covered under the “Inner Line” notified under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations (BEFR), 1873. In order to understand its contemporary relevance, it would be interesting to study the genesis of this relic of British cartographic wizardry, which divides India’s North East.
The historical roots of Inner Line lie in the Anglo-Burmese wars of the early 19th century, which exposed British ignorance of a strategic area, abutting Burma and China. After several difficult expeditions, the hill tracts were mapped out. British influence gradually spread beyond Assam and Manipur to other hills states. The BEFR empowered the Lieutenant Governor to define an inner line, beyond which no British subject of certain classes or foreign residents could pass without a licence, giving the government untrammelled control (Kundra, 2019). The apparent explanation offer by the British was their desire to protect tribal interests.
However, the line effectively demarcated the boundary of British commercial interests in the plains of Assam, protecting them from the incursions of warrior hill tribes. Entrance and outlet of people from either side of the dividing line came under the radar of the imperial government. The terms of engagement between people of the hills and the valley were redefined. The Government of India Act, 1935, went a step further, prescribing “excluded areas” and “partially excluded areas” to be under the direct control of the provincial governor, to the exclusion of the Indian legislature (Kundra, 2019).
It has been extensively used in north-eastern states of India such as Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Sikkim where it is feared that illegal immigration and rising extremism would change the demographic profile of the states and eventually tilt political outcomes in favour of their community. It is also used to restrict entry to tribal areas where any outside intervention would disturb the centuries old tribal culture and way of living.
Meghalaya which records an approximate number of 10,02,907 tourists in the State during 2017 (State Tourism department), fears that the inflow of tourist will be affected if ILP is implemented. The procedure for its implementation is not as complex as it is assumed. Let us have a look at the process of attaining the permit in the four States of North East India. Domestic tourists can get an ILP both offline and online. In Arunachal Pradesh, one can apply online or also obtain it from Delhi, Tezpur, Shillong, Kolkata amongst other places. One can also get an ILP on arrival. The application fee is Rs 100 per person. In Mizoram, one can obtain the ILP for Mizoram from a Liaison Officer, Government of Mizoram from Kolkata, Silchar, Shillong, Guwahati and New Delhi. Additionally, it can also be obtained on arrival from the Lengpui Airport, Aizawl.
The permit, however, has to be renewed depending upon the purpose of your visit. You can look up more info here. The application fee is Rs 20 per person. However, government employees visiting for official purposes are exempted. For Manipur, which is the most recent one to join the other three states, an ILP for Manipur can be obtained from the various counters set up by the government. There are four different types of permit that will be issued, regular permits (valid for 6 months), special category permits (valid for three years), temporary permits (valid for 15 days) and labour permits. Members of the armed forces and their family members, and central corporations are however exempted. For Nagaland, one can fill the form for ILP both online and offline. The form once filled will be submitted and only after acceptance one can proceed for the payment. The application fee is Rs 50 per person (for 15 days), Rs 100 per person (for 30 days).
A recent news item mentions, “Assam: Inner Line Permit is not an effective gatekeeper but kills Tourism and Investment effectively; The Centre must reject it” (Mazumdar, 2020). However, the figures do not seem convincing enough especially after analysing the states which had implemented ILP decades ago. Nagaland, despite having had implemented ILP way back in 1963, still records a total of 15,92158,599 tourists in December 2019 for the international renowned Hornbill festival. Arunachal Pradesh records an inflow of 3.5 lakh tourists in 2016, while in Mizoram, a total of 1, 61,677 tourists from the country and abroad visited Mizoram during 2019 (State Tourism Department). The figures may suggest that there is absolutely no connection between ILP and inflow of tourist into any particular State. It may perhaps imply that tourist may need to learn the simple process of visiting a particular destination before travelling. This will be inculcated in due time which will be a normal procedure once ILP is implemented in Meghalaya as well. (The writer can be reached at [email protected])