A 2021 letter of the Delhi government, a copy of which is in possession of The Federal, points to a move afloat since last year to relocate Rohingyas refugees to NDMC flats at Delhi’s Bakrawala, at the behest of the Centre.
The move, however, went politically wrong for the BJP after Union Housing Minister Hardeep Puri tried to project it as a generous gesture of the Centre towards the Muslim refugee community, prompting the Union Home Ministry to deny the plan.
The plan, as indicated by the Delhi government’s communique dated June 23, 2021, was to convert the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) flats into a “restriction centre”, a more humane sounding official term for a detention camp.
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Deputy Secretary (Home) of the Delhi government, in the letter, requested the NDMC chairman to allot the “Baraat ghar along with all EWS flats” at Bakkarwala to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for the accommodation of “foreign inmates.”
‘Permanent restriction centre’
Stating that the civil authority “is constrained to restrict the movement of illegal foreigners/immigrants because of acute paucity of space,” he urged the council chairman to consider the allotment request of the FRRO, a Home Ministry division for administering foreigner registration.
The flats were needed as the two existing restriction centres at Delhi’s Sewa Sadan Lampur and Shazada Bagh, Sarai Rohilla had no space to accommodate more “foreign inmates.”
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The capacity of the Shazada Bagh centre was to accommodate 40 Bangladeshi inmates, the letter said. But it had 82 inmates, 11 illegal Bangladeshi migrants and 71 illegal immigrants from Myanmar, the communique added. Rohingyas were referred to as illegal foreign inmates from Myanmar in the letter.
The other centre, at Sewa Sadan, was also almost full, the deputy secretary told the NDMC chairman, explaining the urgency for allocation of its flats.
Prior to writing to the NDMC chairman, a “joint inspection” with the representatives of the social welfare department of the Delhi government was done on February 22, 2021, to find a suitable accommodation for a “permanent restriction centre” for foreign inmates at Bakkarwala.
The proposed site had almost 240 EWS flats owned by the NDMC.
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Subsequently, not one but two meetings – one in January and another in July – were held between top officials of the Delhi government, Delhi police and MHA officials sources told The Federal.
The meetings decided to resettle all the Rohingya refugees in the national capital in Bakkarwala flats as Delhi police were of the view that keeping them in one place would be better to keep a tab on them. Accordingly, it was also decided that the Delhi police, which functions under the Home Ministry, will keep a round-the-clock vigil at the Bakkarwala centre.
The Centre, however, apparently did not want to go public with its plan fearing that setting up of such a restriction centre, akin to a detention camp, for Rohingyas would trigger an adverse international reaction.
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It ostensibly wanted to pass it off as a “housing facility.”
The tweet of Puri showcasing it as a benevolent gesture of the BJP-led government at the Centre towards the Muslim “infiltrators”, changed the equation as Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and some BJP leaders went public criticising the minister’s announcement.
India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge in the country. In a landmark decision all #Rohingya #Refugees will be shifted to EWS flats in Bakkarwala area of Delhi. They will be provided basic amenities, UNHCR IDs & round-the-clock @DelhiPolice protection. @PMOIndia pic.twitter.com/E5ShkHOxqE
— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) August 17, 2022
Puri tweeted about the decision to relocate nearly 1,100 Rohingyas to economically weaker sections (EWS) flats equipped with basic facilities and round-the-clock security in Delhi at 7.32 am Wednesday (August 17).
Lauding the decision, the minister had claimed that the move would silence the critics of the BJP government who tried to malign “India’s refugee policy” linking it to the CAA.
VHP reminds Puri of Shah’s statement
Within hours the VHP strongly reacted to the announcement urging the Centre that instead of resettling them, efforts should be made to deport them.
Also read: U-turn: Home Ministry denies flats for Rohingyas after Housing Minister hails move
“We are shocked to see a statement of the Union Minister for Urban Development Hardeep Puri, terming the Rohingyas as refugees and allotting to them the EWS flats in Bakkarwala, Delhi. We might remind him that the statement made by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament on 10.12.2020 declaring that Rohingyas will never be accepted in India (Rohingya ko kabhi bhi sweekar nahi kiya jaega),” VHP’s international working president Alok Kumar had said in a statement.
“… The fact that the Hindu refugees from Pakistan continue to live in abysmal sub-human conditions in Majnu-ka-Tila area of Delhi makes the bounty proposed to be conferred on the Rohingyas all the more deplorable,” he added.
Even many senior BJP leaders and RSS functionaries took serious exception to the announcement, forcing the u-turn, sources added.
With respect to news reports in certain sections of media regarding Rohingya illegal foreigners, it is clarified that Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi.
— गृहमंत्री कार्यालय, HMO India (@HMOIndia) August 17, 2022