Illegal immigrant row overshadows gas export debate

Vol 7, PW 4 (07 May 03) People & Policy

PARLIAMENT IN Bangladesh has cancelled a debate on gas exports to India in what is widely seen as a reflection of the growing anti-India feeling over Delhis crackdown on illegal Bangladeshi immigrants crossing the border.

The debate was expected to take place in the budget session of the Bangladeshi parliament that begins on 8th May. "There will be no major debate as was promised by the government," energy minister Mosharraf Hossain tells PETROWATCH, referring to the surge of anti-India feeling across the country.

"Begum Zia feels this is the wrong time to discuss the subject in parliament. The timing is very bad.

The item (gas exports) is not listed for debate. There are only a few questions sent in by MPs and these will be answered routinely during question hour." Relations between India and Bangladesh are at an all-time low.

Delhi accuses Bangladesh of ignoring the alleged presence in India of several hundred thousand illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Bangladesh denies this.

On the ground, Indian police across the country conduct nighttime raids in shantytown areas in search of these illegal migrants. Once detained, entire families are pushed across the border back into Bangladesh.

Human rights activists in India complain that the exercise is targeted at poverty-stricken Bengali Muslims irrespective of whether they come from West Bengal or Bangladesh. Bengali is the language of both.

More, Dhaka accuses India of vastly exaggerating the numbers of illegal migrants. So upset is Dhaka that one of Bangladesh's popular Muslim fundamentalist organisations, Dar-ul-uloom Madrassah Committee, a component of the ruling Bangladeshi coalition, even called for a boycott of all Indian goods on 21st April in protest.

"India is hostile to us and has expansionist designs on Bangladesh," it said in a statement.

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