New Delhi, Aug 17 - In an effort to stem the scaremongering that has led to thousands from the northeast fleeing southern states, the government Friday banned bulk SMSes in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka for 15 days as parliament united in support of people from the region and demanded that those fanning rumours be punished.
MPs cutting across party lines Friday spoke as one in support of people from the northeast with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declaring in both houses of parliament that everybody would together ensure that those from the region were safe in all parts of the country.
With wild rumours fuelling the exodus of northeast people from Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai, the home ministry clamped down on bulk SMSes that have been the source of fears of attacks. SMSes have been spreading that people from the northeast region would be attacked after the Eid-ul-Fitr on Aug 20 to avenge the recent ethnic violence in Assam, in which more than 74 people were killed.
The rumours have led to over 6,000 students from northeast to flee to Guwahati from Bangalore by special trains till late Wednesday.
Despite assurances by state government authorities that they would be looked after, on Friday morning an estimated 2,000 people from the northeastern states boarded crowded trains leaving for Howrah in West Bengal and Guwahati, Assam, from Mumbai's Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at Kurla.
An estimated 3,000 people have already left Maharashtra from Nashik and Pune in the past three days.
Since early this week, an estimated 5,000 people from Assam and other northeastern states have returned home, leaving their jobs, education and houses in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik.
Meanwhile, the Assam government Friday sent its ministers to Bangalore and Hyderabad to discuss the exodus of northeast citizens following rumours that they would be attacked.
Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi also convened an all party meeting at his office chamber in Dispur to discuss the situation.
Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Friday assured people from the northeastern states of their security in the national capital and said they need not panic or leave the city.
"(We) wish to assure all people from the northeast that (there is) no reason whatsoever to panic or leave Delhi. Please report any disturbing incident to us. We are with you for help," Kumar tweeted.
In Hyderabad, the police chief denied there was a mass exodus of people of Assam and other northeast states from the city.
Andhra Pradesh police chief Dinesh Reddy urged people from the northeast not to heed rumours and asserted that they faced no threat in the city.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy Friday downplayed the flight of northeast people from the state, saying they were leaving as they wanted to be with their families in their native states.
"There is no problem in the state and they (northeast people) are leaving because they want to be with their families back home," Reddy told IANS.
Police also clarified that there was no foul play in the death of a man from Assam at Sompeta railway station in Srikakulam district on Aug 14. The railway police said Sanjay Kumar Roy (40) accidentally fell down from the Bangalore-Guwahati Express.
A railway official in Chennai said that around 2,000 people have left in additional coaches for Assam.
The Egmore Railway Station saw sudden influx of people from Assam and Manipur. Most of the people were working as labourers in the city hotels and as security guards at different offices or apartments.
In Parliament, members in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha discussed the issue at length. Question hour was adjourned in both houses.
Addressing the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: "It is our obligation to protect the people of northeast. The government will discharge its duty to the best of its ability so that the feeling of insecurity among people of northeast is brought under control."
"Such acts are most reprehensible. The unity and integrity of India is being threatened by some elements," he said.
The prime minister also said that "rumour mongers" and "miscreants" would be brought to book.
The message was echoed by members of both houses.
"The government should create a helpline for students; deploy police around hostels and shopping malls. The house should pass a resolution to assure the northeastern students that the government and parliament will protect them," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj said in the Lok Sabha.
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde echoed the assurance of protection and said the Intelligence Bureau was probing if the source of hate messages against the northeast people was outside India.
"Lots of rumours are doing the rounds. I have asked the Intelligence Bureau to probe if the source of such messages is outside the country," he said.