Karnataka does not have a detention centre according to Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who said a recently opened facility – located in Sondekoppa village, 30 kilometres from Bengaluru – is meant to lodge African nationals found guilty of drug peddling. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the Home Minister insisted “in qualified terms it is not a detention centre… there is no purpose, per se, to detain someone on the issue of citizenship”. The Home Minister also said “I have no information” about the facility being operationalised yet.
Mr Bommai’s comments come only days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed there were no detention centres in the country and Union Home Minister Amit Shah said “a centre (for illegal migrants) has been in Assam for years”.
“Please check with social welfare department. At least I have no information it has started. If it has been operationalised there should be some detainees there? No one is there,” he said, adding, “In qualified terms, it is not a detention centre. There is no purpose per se to detain someone on the issue of citizenship”.
“It is only to keep them (African nationals) there and send them back to their nation,” Mr Bommai said, claiming that their illegal activities had created a law and order problem.
The facility in question – it is a 20-year-old building spread over a few hundred square feet that previously served as a hostel building – has several rooms, a kitchen and toilets and is being kept ready on directions of the state government, officials told news agency PTI.
In October the Karnataka Home Minister had told reporters “there is a detention centre… it needs to be operationalised” and indicated it would house illegal foreign nationals. He also said the BJP government in Karnataka was considering conducting a NRC exercise in the state.
Widespread nationwide protests have broken out over the central government’s plans to extend the controversial NRC (National Register of Citizens) exercise carried out in Assam – it excluded 19 lakh people – to other states.
Protestors, who have also hit out at amendments to the citizenship law, say the combination of the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act discriminates against Muslims and violates secular principles of the Constitution.
Amit Shah, who last month told parliament “NRC will be carried out across the country” appeared to backtrack from that position yesterday. In an interview with news agency ANI he echoed Prime Minister Modi’s comment, saying, “PM was right… no discussion on it (NRC) right now”.
On Sunday the Prime Minister not only said there were no detention centres in the country but hinted that a nationwide NRC – something repeatedly referenced by Amit Shah, who last year described illegal immigrants as “termites” – would not happen.
The detention centre referred to by Amit Shah is being built in the Goalpara district of Assam – where the NRC was carried out – and is spread over 2.5 hectares.
Meanwhile whatever, or whomever, the facility may have been re-designed for, there appears to be confusion over which government department is responsible for it.
A government official told PTI that only “food, accommodation and clothes will be provided by Social Welfare Department”, but Foreign Regional Registration Officer Labhu Ram was quoted as saying: “Please check with the Social Welfare Department. The detention centre is looked after by them.”
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, makes religion the test of Indian citizenship for the first time. The government claims it will help get citizenship for non-Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution from three Muslim-dominated countries.
With input from PTI, ANI
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