New Delhi: Stung by the goof-up over the most-wanted list of fugitives hiding in Pakistan, India has embarked on a complete overhaul of its systems. For the first time since 1985, it has ordered a comprehensive review of foreigners, who have been blacklisted and denied permission to enter into India.
This will be taken up at a high-level meeting due on 6 June and to be attended by officials from the ministry of home affairs, the ministry of external affairs, intelligence agencies and immigration officials.
A total of 44,003 foreigners, including non-resident Indians (NRIs), are in the blacklist, according to a list prepared by the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of external affairs. The list of most-wanted is over and above the list of blacklisted people.
The move will help India to cut down the number of people who have been unnecessarily kept on watch for the last 25 years and reduce the burden on intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It will also facilitate free movement of many NRIs abroad, who, since they were blacklisted, have ceased to subscribe to anti-national or extremist ideology any more.
“All Indian missions and posts will be asked to take a comprehensive review of number of blacklisted people in the particular country. Earlier, reviews were only limited to a few countries on need-to-know basis. But this time, irrespective of everything, a worldwide review will be carried out,” a high-ranking government official said on condition of anonymity.
“The missions and posts will check the criminal back-ground of the person and his activities. If the person is found to be a criminal, he will be permanently blacklisted. But leniency will be shown to people who were blacklisted due to reasons like over staying in India or (being) involved in petty offences,” the official added.
The papers reviewed by Mint suggest that the process of blacklisting foreign nationals started in 1985 and nine people were banned then. The numbers grew over the period and around 4,000 people were banned in 2005, 2006 and 2007, respectively. This year alone, at least 297 people have been added to the list.
“We expect that after the review, the figure of 44,003 will drop to around 10,000 people,” another high-ranking official, who too declined to be named, said.
Those foreign nationals who can be a potential threat to India, people with criminal background or involved in any illegal activity or foreigners who have illegally stayed in India and repatriated to their respective country, are blacklisted. The blacklisted people also contain names of fugitives wanted by India and are suspected to be living abroad.
Last month, the home ministry removed the names of 142 Sikh NRIs from the blacklist and necessary instructions were issued to the Indian missions and posts. This was done on the recommendations of the Punjab government, which said that these people have not indulged in any criminal or anti-India activities.
The second official said this step is also being taken as the government, for the first time, has taken up the task of creating a central database of such people under its ambitious Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration and Tracking project, the core objective of which is to develop and implement a secure and integrated service delivery framework that facilitates legitimate travellers while strengthening security.
The total project cost is approximately Rs 1,011 crore, of which Rs 132 crore is to be spent in the first phase that started in April 2010 and is expected to end in June. The remaining Rs 879 crore has been earmarked for the second phase (July 2011-September 2014).
Under the same project, a senior home ministry official said that India will start printing photographs of visa applicants from next year onwards.
“It will help in detecting frauds and hassle-free movement of foreign travellers. At present, discussions are being held to how to implement this,” the official said.