Partha Pratim Mazumder
The six-year-old Assam agitation ended with the signing of the ‘Assam Accord’ between the Centre, Assam government and the organizations leading the movement in 1985. Under the terms of this Accord, Assam agreed to take the burden of 23 years of illegal migrants — those entering the State from the erstwhile East Pakistan/Bangladesh up to 25 March, 1971. In other words, the government can come up with protective legislation for local population in Assam in terms of reserving resources like land, employment and other benefits. It is because of such legislations that the rest of the Northeast is relatively free from the problem of illegal immigrants. In fact, a court commissioner — appointed by the Supreme Court to furnish a report on the India-Bangladesh border in 2015 recommended a protective legislation — only those who are citizens of India and residents of Assam on the basis of the 1951 cut-off year and their progeny should be allowed to buy and sell land. This, in addition to the NRC update, will comprehensively ensure that the indigenous people don’t become a minority in their own land.
It is clear that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is mainly based on field verification. However, the fact remains that many such field verifications are not error free. The quality of field verification was not cross-checked at any time; neither under Rule 2(3) at the time of first inclusion nor at the time of IMDT under Rule 3(4). The field reports are not digitized. As a result beyond the Circle at the District and State levels, there is/was no material to undertake quality check. Poor quality of supervision of officers along with possible fraud by data entry operators has resulted in a large number of rejections at the Block level finding their way into the NRC Draft. The quality of personnel employed for field verification has left a lot to be desired. Insofar as the quality of other personnel employed, the fact remains that many among them were forcefully pushed into the job with very little knowledge or training imparted to them — and this showed up in the poor quality of the type-two verifications for family tree. On the other hand, as the quality of field verification was not cross-checked; so it becomes a hallucination of this process.
The NRC, therefore, by itself is not a foolproof measure to protect the State’s indigenous population (khilanjiya). A large number of declared foreigners by the Foreigner Tribunals (FTs) have had their names included in the NRC. Those declared to be foreigners by a judicial process have been identified as citizens by the NRC process. Additional measures are required to stop migration from Bangladesh given that any migration has an economic dimension to it. Measures should also be undertaken to bar illegal immigrants from acquiring land and other benefits by the government. In other words, the government can come up with protective legislation for the local population in Assam in terms of reserving resources like land, employment and providing other benefits. It is because of such legislations that the rest of the Northeast is relatively free from the problem of illegal immigrants.
It is a basic principle that citizens of any country have right over the resources of that country. However, the case is different when migrants from a neighbouring country occupy the land, thereby putting a tremendous pressure on the cultivable land and reducing the land holdings of the native population.
Land is a key economic resource which can’t be created or increased. As per the statement given by Chief Minister of Assam, approximately seven per cent (429,697 hectares) of cultivable land was destroyed by River Brahmaputra and its tributaries between years 1951 to 2000. On one hand, a large part of cultivable land is affected by natural causes (like floods etc) and on the other hand, illegal migrants occupy the land which naturally belongs to the native people and therefore local people are facing a double whammy. Most of the Bangladeshi migrants form manual workforce like house construction workers, painters, rickshaw pullers, gardeners among others and their females work as maids. India is a highly populated country and we don’t need workforce for doing such kind of unskilled work. We are a populous country and jobs requiring technical knowledge can’t be provided to a large number of people. Opportunities which legitimately belong to locals are snatched away by migrants.
These illegal migrants have a very strong social network and they have access to government offices also. Many of them have secured Indian citizenship by procuring illegal documents and getting the benefit of various social welfare schemes like MNREGA, Ayushman Bharat, etc. They are taking the benefits of those schemes which are meant for Indian citizens and this costs the government exchequer. The financial burden of our government increases in providing basic facilities to the intruders and a developing nation like India can’t afford to spend its money on illegal occupants at the cost of its own citizen. Migrants have a higher birth rate and as a result their population is increasing exponentially which is aggravating the problem. A large number of the migrant workforce is engaged in small business. Usually, they are unregistered and don’t pay any tax. The money which could have come to exchequer is foregone. Besides this, the migrant economy run through informal channels and adds to the black market economy. These people earn money in India and send it to Bangladesh via illegal means. The money which could have been part of the economic cycle in India is remitted outside India via illegal means.
At times we come across the argument that migration increases per-capita GDP of host economies by raising labour productivity. Research by IMF, published in 2016, is quoted in support of this argument. In our case, we must highlight that this theory is not applicable universally and it holds good in geographies like Europe where the population is ageing. In our case, we are a country with a large workforce and we need to provide employment to our youth. A populous country like India doesn’t need unskilled labour from other countries. Besides this, it is a generally accepted trend worldwide to welcome foreigners with specialized skills so that they can contribute to the growth story of the host country. This silent invasion has impacted Assam’s economy in many ways. Encroachment of land, snatching the manual work, running petty shops, etc. are direct impact which is visible but there is a much bigger indirect impact in the form of unrest and its consequences which has driven away industries from this State. If Assam has to prosper then we must protect our natural resources from these infiltrators and simultaneously send a message to the business community that there is peace in the State.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court has supported the government’s effort in the identification process and the Court has set August 31, 2019 as the date for releasing final NRC for Assam. We can also expect the final passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Parliament to ensure that those who crossed the border due to religious persecution get relief in the process of identification and deportation. It is high time to implement the promises made to the Assamese people when the Assam Accord was signed in 1985. The Government should come up with protective legislation for local population in Assam in terms of reserving resources like land, economy, employment and other benefits. It is because of such legislations that the rest of the Northeast is relatively free from the problem of illegal immigrants.