27th November 2019 : The Hindu Editorials Notes : Mains Sure Shot
Note – Today there is another article on sanitation titled ‘Not so Swachh’. This we will upload tomorrow.
Question – In the view of the proposed idea of a nationwide NRC, enumerate its various aspects and discuss the way ahead.(250 words)
Context – The proposed idea of a nationwide NRC.
What is NRC?
- The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register containing the names of all genuine Indian citizens. At present, only Assam has such a register.
What is NRC in Assam?
- The NRC in Assam is basically a list of Indian citizens living in the state. The Register basically aims to identify foreign nationals in the state because Assam shares borders with Bangladesh and the number of illegal immigrants entering the state is very high.
- The government has now proposed the idea of making a nationwide NRC to weed out the illegal immigrants who are staying in the country.
Why illegal immigrants are a concern?
- There are limited natural resources and already our population is increasing day by day. We already have strain on the available resources.
- Security threat – with inability to produce proper documents, they mostly remain homeless and jobless and hence vulnerable. They can be easily radicalised.
Concerns with nationwide NRC:
- In Parliament, recently, a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) was proposed. While its predecessors were counting “residents” rather than “citizens”, the objective of this latest initiative is to count citizens — specifically to sift and sort citizens from non-citizens, to include and exclude, and having done so to weed out “infiltrators” destined for detention camps and potential deportation.
- It’s going to create a lot of confusion. There is no clear guideline as to how do people prove that they belong here?
- There is a danger that it could lead to regionalism in practice – the problem of foreigners isn’t big enough to cause this sort of internal strife. For example, in Karnataka there are Tibetan Buddhists who have settled down in Bylakuppe. It was given to them. But now to look at who belongs there and who doesn’t is an exercise that will cause a lot of social strain.
- There is also a problem of feasibility – Under the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, the burden of proof rests on the individual charged with being a foreigner. Since the Citizenship Act provides no independent mechanism for identifying aliens the NRC effectively places an entire population under suspicion of alienage.
- The work of “authenticating” 87.9 crore people would entail the deployment of 1.33 crore officials. In 2011-12 (the most recent official data available), the total number of government employees in India was 2.9 crore.
- One way or another, the entire population of India and more than half its government officials will be involved, for at least the next 10 years, in counting and being counted.
- This is a nightmarish prospect for poor and unlettered citizens whose ancestors have known no other land but this, but who are unable to produce acceptable documentation. As in Assam, the fear of not having papers has already led to many suicides; we should brace ourselves for many more.
- The cut-off date March 1971 has little relevance beyond Assam. The speculation about a July 1948 date for the rest of India is implausible in light of the Citizenship Act in 1955.
- There is no clarity whether enrolment in the NRC be compulsory or voluntary (as in Assam), and what might the consequences of not seeking registration be?
- There is the federal imperative of seeking the consent of State governments as well. Many of whom my disagree.
- Already, many States in northeast India are erupting in protest. It is sobering to recall that political considerations alone have prevented the implementation, for over two decades, of the Supreme Court ruling awarding citizenship to Chakma and Hajong tribals in Arunachal Pradesh. If nationwide NRC is implemented these states might rigid their demand for a separate NRC in their state as well. Regionalism will get a fillip.
- The resources needed to conduct such an NRC is huge and the final outcome of spending so much resources on the project must be reconsidered.
- The Assam NRC is reported to have cost ₹1,600 crore with 50,000 officials deployed to enrol almost 3.3 crore applicants in an exercise that even its champions acknowledge to be deeply flawed, as it ended up excluding 19 lakh people. On this basis, and taking as an indicative number the Indian electorate of 87.9 crore, a nationwide NRC would require an outlay of ₹4.26 lakh crore, which is more than double the presumptive loss in the 2G scam, and four times the budgetary outlay for education this year.
- The proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill creates paths to citizenship for preferred groups. The implicit assumption in the NRC is that the infiltrators are Bangladeshis (read Muslims) who must be disenfranchised and stripped of any markers of citizenship that they may have illegitimately acquired. The explicit promise of citizenship in the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is to migrants belonging to specified religious groups — all except Muslims — who will be eligible for fast-track citizenship because they are persecuted minorities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Bill does not specify what, if any, evidence would be required for validating claims of religious persecution. Nor does it offer similar respite to the victims of sectarian religious persecution in neighbouring countries, such as the Ahmadiyas or the Rohingyas. so if citizen is defined based on the CAB then it will be biased, flawed and not doing proper justice.
- It is inconsistent with the idea of citizenship that was adopted at Independence. At the end of a prolonged debate on citizenship, the Constituent Assembly settled on the principle of jus soli or birth-based citizenship as being “enlightened, modern, civilized” as opposed to the “racial citizenship” implied by the rival descent-based principle of jus sanguinis. A shift from soil to blood as the basis of citizenship began to occur from 1985 onwards. In 2004, an exception to birth-based citizenship was created for individuals born in India but having one parent who was an illegal migrant (impliedly Bangladeshi Muslim) at the time of their birth. The CAB and the NRC will only consolidate this shift to a jus sanguinis citizenship regime.
- Constitutionally, India is a political community whose citizens avow the idea of the nation as a civic entity, transcending ethnic differences. The NRC-CAB combination signals a transformative shift from a civic-national conception to an ethno-national conception of India, as a political community in which identity determines gradations of citizenship.
- In the final analysis, the minutiae of implementation —from cut-off dates to resource constraints — are only cautionary arguments against this potential misadventure. The compelling argument against it lies in its adverse repercussions for the delicate but fraying plural social fabric of this nation.
- Above all, for the equality of citizenship, based on birth and without regard to creed, that our Constitution guarantees.
- The government should keep all the concerns in mind before finalising any decision. Both the long term and short term concerns must be given a deep thought and the decision should be based on farsighted repercussions that it might lead to.