“…It is clarified that the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has not given any directions to provide EWS flats to Rohingya illegal migrants at Bakkarwala in New Delhi,” the MHA statement said.
It said that it is the Delhi government which had proposed to shift the Rohingyas to a new location, and that the Centre would not agree to it. “MHA has directed the Delhi government to ensure that the Rohingya illegal foreigners will continue at the present location as MHA has already taken up the matter of their deportation with the concerned country through the ministry of external affairs (MEA),” it said.
“Illegal foreigners are to be kept in detention centre till their deportation as per law. The government of Delhi has not declared the present location (of Rohingyas) as a detention centre. They have been directed to do the same immediately,” the MHA emphasised.
The public refutation led the housing minister to backpedal and say that the MHA clarification “gives the correct position”.
Many in BJP, the larger Sangh Parivar, as well as Hindutva supporters had reacted on social media with disbelief and dismay over Puri’s tweets which militated against the known position of the party and the government on the issue of Rohingyas.
Tagging a report of news agency ANI, Puri had tweeted, “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.
“Those who made a career out of spreading canards on India’s refugee policy deliberately linking it to #CCA will be disappointed. India respects & follows @UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” the minister, formerly a career diplomat, went on to say.
The pushback was swift and fierce. VHP chief Alok Kumar slammed the Union minister, saying, “We are shocked to see a statement of Hardeep Puri, the Union minister for urban development, terming the Rohingyas as refugees and allotting to them the EWS flats in Bakkarwala, Delhi. We might remind Mr Puri of the statement made by Union home minister Amit Shah in Parliament on December 10, 2020 declaring that Rohingyas will never be accepted in India (Rohingya ko kabhi bhi sweekar nahi kiya jaega).”
He also asked for the Rohingyas to be sent back immediately.
BJP was more restrained but left no room for doubt about its annoyance with Puri. Party spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia released the minutes of a meeting convened by Delhi chief secretary to say that the proposal to move Rohingyas to flats built for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) was that of the Kejriwal government and not of the Centre.
Puri’s tweets flew in the face of the stated position of the Narendra Modi government which has refused to issue Aadhaar cards to Rohingyas on the ground that they are illegal immigrants. Contrary to the position taken by Puri, the MHA had told the Parliament on July 20 that “India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the statue of refugees and the 1967 protocol thereon”, thus emphasising that it was under no international obligation to cause the illegal immigrants to leave the country.
The government and the BJP stuck to this position in the face of massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Rohingyas, who are Muslims who fled Myanmar after a brutal crackdown by the country’s army, have been at the Centre of a raging debate, with BJP coming under attack from the liberal and human rights activists and international bodies for not agreeing to treat them as refugees.
In Delhi, groups of them, however, have been living unauthorisedly in different parts with many organisations and influential individuals like AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan extending them support.
The ANI report, which was welcomed by Puri, had said that in the meeting last week it was emphasised that the Delhi government was bearing about Rs 7 lakh per month rent for the tents where Rohingyas were shifted in Madanpur Khadar area after a fire incident took place in the camp where they were living.
The report had claimed that the refugees would soon be shifted to New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) flats in Bakkarwala village in Outer Delhi. It also said in the meeting Delhi Police were instructed to provide security to the premises where these flats are located and the social welfare department of the Delhi government had been ordered to ensure basic facilities like a fan, three times meals, landline phone, television and recreational facilities in the new campus.