The UPA government’s political compulsions seem to have put on hold plans for biometric scanning of visa seekers from Bangladesh.
At a time when the issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants has set Assam on fire and created collateral damage in other parts of the country, the Congress is desperately trying to keep its minority votebanks intact.
Thousands of Bangladeshis and Pakistanis have jumped their visas to overstay in India, raising security concerns.
Replying to a question in Lok Sabha, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur said that over 83,400 people from the country, claiming to be refugees, are living in India while 23,653 Bangladeshi citizens have been deported from 2009 to 2011.
All had valid travel documents and the whereabouts of 58,932 of them remain unknown.
In an RTI reply, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has revealed that 7,691 Pakistanis were found overstaying their visas.
The data collection has been tawdry: the foreigners division of the MHA admits that data is available only till 2009 and information on visa violators from Bangladesh and Pakistan has not been compiled from 2009 onwards. Of this, more than 2,000 are in Nagpur alone.
Meanwhile, intelligence agencies are worried that of the 23,000-odd Pakistanis who came through the Rajasthan border since 2007, 4,624 have not returned despite the expiry of their visas.
Biometric scanning procedures were introduced in the US, followed by UK and Europe after 9/11. India is yet to implement them.
India is now part of a pilot project to implement biometric scanning of visa applicants, starting with fingerprints and facial biometrics.
Next week, a team from the National Informatics Centre and MHA will visit UK, which along with US and Pakistan are part of the project.
The US State Department defines biometric or biometric identifier as “an objective measurement of a physical characteristic of an individual which, when captured in a database, can be used to verify the identity or check against other entries in the database.The best known biometric is the fingerprint, but others include facial recognition and iris scans.”
The project is related to the implementation of Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration and Tracking (IVFRT) in Indian missions and posts abroad, which aims to keep track of foreign nationals digitally – as a reaction to the extensive reconnaissance trips of David Coleman Headley for planning the 26/11 attacks.
While Bangladesh was part of the original proposal at the biometric collection stage, the MHA quietly dropped it from the pilot project, about a month ago.
“It was an internal assessment that this would not be a right time to implement it in Bangladesh,” said a senior MEA official.
The government is worried that biometrically regulating visas for Bangladeshis would create a backlash in support of Khaleda Zia and form a regime that is sympathetic to the anti-India Islamist militant cause.
India is aware that the Sheikh Hasina government, accused of being pro-India, is currently on a sticky wicket, politically.
The opposition BNP has already announced an agitation against the ruling Awami League coalition, which has been steadily losing popularity.