Bengaluru: Surrounded by tall coconut trees, lush green fie-lds, this premises — which comes with well-maintained lawns and a large open space — appears like a resort on the city outskirts where one can relax and rejuvenate. The only giveaways that it is a detention centre are the bar-bed wires that run over the 10-foot-high walls and the watchtowers on two corners of the premises.
Enter the compound and a policeman, his weapon resting against the wall, has multiple questions to ask even as he signals his four colleagues, lazing around in the campus, to screen the visitor.
The detention centre in the calm and peaceful environs of Sondekappa village in Nelamangala some 40 km from Bengaluru — which finds itself at the centre of a raging debate over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — is slowly getting activated, though for the moment the Karnataka government is trying to keep a veil of secrecy over when it will start functioning.
Scheduled to be inaugurated on January 1, the government postponed the event owing to largescale protests against the NRC. But a visit to the detention centre indicates that it may not be long before it becomes operational, perhaps as early as this month-end. Over the last few days, the police presence has increased within the compound while construction of two rooms — one for the staff and the other for policemen — is going on at a brisk pace.
A new caretaker has been appointed by the social welfare department about 15 days ago.
“We have not been told when this will be inaugurated. It was to be inaugurated on January 1 but has been postponed,” informs the caretaker who was busy watering the plants.
Till about 10 years ago, the compound used to serve as an SC/ST hostel but eventually got closed due to the dwindling strength of students.
“We have spent `1 crore in redoing the premises,” informs Chandra Naik, an official of the social welfare department who is also incharge of the detention centre.
There are six rooms in the compound, each room with five beds — all brand new and waiting to be occupied. There is a common kitchen and bathroom while utensils and other items needed on an everyday basis are kept ready. Solar power has been provided while two watch towers have been constructed on the two corners on the rear of the compound. Barbed wires above the compound wall will ensure none tries to sneak in or get out.
“Earlier, there used to be a maximum of one or two personnel guarding the premises. Now we have five each working in two shifts,” informs one of the five personnel. The detention centre can hold up to 25 people at a time.
However, authorities vehemently deny that the detention centre has anything to do with the NRC. This despite repeated statements from senior ministers of the Karnataka government who have said they are studying the NRC with a view to implementing it in the state.
“We have re-done the whole compound and now the ball is in the court of the home department and the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) on what they intend to do with it,” says a senior government functionary. He says there is no clarity when the centre would be inaugurated. The facility will come under the joint control of the home and social welfare department. The FRRO functions under the Bureau of Immigration.
A senior police official said that there are a large number of foreigners in Karnataka, many of whom were arrested for various crimes and have to be deported to their respective countries. Among them, there are also those who have invalid documents and are overstaying in the state.
“Where do we keep them after they serve their sentences ? We cannot continue to keep them in jail once they have served the sentence. We are fine-tuning the guidelines for the use of the detention centre,” he says adding that vested interests are deliberately giving it an NRC twist.
He agrees that the government is studying the NRC and whether it can be implemented in Karnataka. “This detention centre has nothing to do with it.”
What has worried a section of people is Karnataka home minister Basavarj Bommai’s recent statement that his department is gathering information about implementation of the NRC in Assam. He also said that the matter would be discussed with Union home minister Amit Shah.
Many feel that the detention centre has been set up as part of the Karnataka government’s intentions to implement the NRC.
Interestingly, the renovation work at the detention centre had commenced when the JD(S)-Congress combine was in power.
According to another official, who is in the know of developments, the FRRO has identified close to 500 foreign nationals who are either overstaying in the state or are without valid documents and those who have been arrested in various offences who are awaiting deportation. Most of them hail from Africa, informs the official. “But there are many Bangladeshi Muslims here as well,” he adds.
It is not known how many foreigners will be accommodated in a facility which can only house 25 people at one time....