India Bears Colossal Fiscal Cost of Being a Soft State
JANUARY 11, 2020
By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Editor
INDIA has paid & continues to pay huge price for being a soft State. We are a nation where good ideas take decades to take-off. We take decades to bite the bullet on strategic issues such as buying planes for Indian Air Force (IAF).
Delays in realm of policies & projects are legendary. Delays have become synonymous with Democracy in India. Delayed Justice is the unwritten rule of the law. Strict enforcement of rules always invites protests from activists & sound-byte hungry media. Many good intentions scripted in directive principles in the Constitution exist as such.
No wonder no one has quantified the fiscal and opportunity costs of delays since the Independence. Even a simple idea as Voter Identity Cards (VICs) has cost the country enormously due to 50-yr span between enactment of amendment to a law in 1958 & its comprehensive execution (70% coverage)by 2007 across the country.
The cost of delay got compounded due to corrupt practices in issue of VICs. Illegal immigrants bought VICs with ease - a fact admitted time & again by Government in Parliament.
The right to vote is the last right conferred on aliens-turned citizens in certain democracies. In India, it is the first right sold for a song! Ditto was the case with generous recommendation from MLA or MP to issue ration card to illegal migrants in West Bengal - an issue raised by Mamata Banerjee and other MPs in Parliament during the eighties.
The compromised Indian system has turned VICs& ration cards into the means for illegal aliens to get citizenship. The vote-bank politicians ensured that such migrants' names appear on the electoral rolls. More of VICs a bit later.
VICs have direct relevance to the idea of National Identity Cards (NICs) which is the final outcome of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRICs). This is an issue that has been seized by activists to fuel protests that often turn violent.
The NICs were first mooted for Indians in Assam in 1960's to segregate infiltrators. The proposal was shot down at conception stage as it was considered to be "impracticable and inexpedient". The Government disclosed this in Parliament during March 1966. In Assam, infiltrators from Bangladesh got VICs with so much ease that indigenous population turned against not only VICs but also against pilot-scale NICs project.
NICs are still an eternal dream for majority of Indians. This, in spite of the fact that Citizenship Act, 1955 was amended in 2003. And the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 came into force in December 2004.
The road for NICs was paved by Parliament Standing Committee (PSC) on Home Affairs. In August 1996, it recommended: " The Photo Identity cards, as a matter of fact, issued on a national plan will be of immense use to the citizens in many ways particularly from the point of view of internal security. They will also help identify the illegal foreign migrants who could be deported back to the countries of their origin. A look in its entirety has, therefore, to be had on this issue and since the Photo Identity Cards are of prime importance in a national perspective it may be ensured that they are issued to all the people within a definite timeframe ".
India's identity card crisis has a British lineage. It was aptly traced to British India by late Hukam Singh in Lok Sabha while presenting the Rules Committee report during September 1957. He stated the issue of elected member presenting some kind of credentials before oath-taking has been engaging the attention of parliamentarians for some time.
Mr. Singh quoted Sir Fredrick Whyte, the First President of the Central Legislative Assembly as having stated in 1826 "On the elected Members presenting themselves to take the oath or to affirm, no further authentication of identity is required. This is a lacuna in the Assembly procedure and might be used as a loophole for malpractices ".
And this loophole was smartly exploited twice by one intruder each on different dates in Lok Sabha. Mr. Singh, who later became Lok Sabha Speaker, recalled both the anecdotes. Narrating one case, he said an intruder sat by his side in Lok Sabha on 15th July 1957.
He recalled: "I tried to question him. Shri Gopalan also felt doubtful as to whether he was a really elected Member, but he refused to be drawn into any conversation. I thought perhaps he did not like to have any conversation with me, but he refused to talk to Shri Gopalan also. He adopted the better course and told us this much only that he was an independent ".
Mr. Singh continued: " When I told him that this was not his seat and that this seat had been allotted to the leader of the Communist group Shri Dange, he replied that he had been asked to occupy this seat by the Speaker himself ".
This anecdote has direct relevance to illegal aliens & terrorists entering India. Infiltrations are unstoppable. This is notwithstanding the fact that we have an army of unemployed and underemployed youth who can be tapped for national security.
The anecdote is also applicable to dreaded issue of Pakistani citizens who disappear after expiry of their visa in India. The police are clueless about whereabouts of thousands of them. Factor in 2001 case of terrorists driving into Parliament in car bearing Parliament entry pass sticker. All these instances have one common reminder: India is a soft State.
And now when Modi Government belatedly wants to shed the soft tag modestly, there is outcry against National Population Register (NPR)& NRIC. These data will help spot illegal aliens who masquerade as citizens after buying multiple identity proofs such as VIC, driving licence and Aadhar.
UPA, in fact, contrived Aadhaar purely to leverage vote-bank politics. Recall how UPA top brass viewed Aadhaar as pure magic &a licence to return back to power.
UPA Government claimed Aadhaar is just a number that enables poor get access to welfare benefits.
As put by Government in Parliament during May 2012, "Aadhaar aims to provide a soft identity infrastructure which can be used to re-engineer public services so that these lead to equitable, efficient and better delivery of services".
In fact, Aadhaar is now de facto God-sent gift for illegal migrants. The growing army of migrants masquerading as citizens is increasing the expenditure borne by the Government on welfare schemes starting with highly subsidized food grain under National Food Security Act. Mind you, it is the ration that helped refugees to resist return to their Amar Sonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal) after 1971 war.
India's well-entrenched welfare system is a powerful magnet for citizens from neighbouring countries.
Illegal migrants offer services at rates cheaper than that charged by existing daily wage-earners/informal workers such as maid servants, safai karamcharis (sanitation workers), guards and attendants etc.
Illegal immigration of poor from Bangladesh and Myanmar has increased supply of cheap labour, thereby hurting the Indian poor. Unemployed migrants also contribute to crimes ranging from thefts to rapes. The statistics on crimes committed by Bangladeshi migrants in Delhi have been presented in Parliament in the past. Land grabbing by migrants, a trend that even Britishers recorded in the Raj era, is now taken as new normal by populist politicians.
Notwithstanding all this, a section of mainstream media-aided activists are waging protests against NPR and NRIC in the name of poor. Their campaign against proposed deportation of illegal migrants through legal process would worsen unemployment, poverty and welfare burden on the national exchequer.
The Opposition and activists are blaming the Government for deflecting public attention from economic problems by bringing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NPR. The protestors have conveniently mixed up CAA with the ongoing implementation of Foreigners Act. Identification, arrest and deportation of illegal migrants is a normal legal process.
Vajpayee Government, for instance, deported 90,431 illegal immigrants during 1999-2004. So did the UPA Government too. UPA, however, once admitted in Parliament that the number of fresh infiltrators/re-infiltrators were several times more than the infiltrators from Bangladesh. Half-hearted implementation of Foreigners Act has thus already enhanced infiltrators' burden on the national exchequer.
Rajiv Gandhi Government amended Citizenship Act twice in two successive years. First, in 1985 to give statutory framework to Assam Accord for detecting and expelling foreigners who entered the State after the specified cut-off date. Second, in 1986 to make tougher conditions for acquisition of citizenship and to check illegal immigration.
Replying to debate on Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 1986 in Lok Sabha on 10 th November 1986, P. Chidambaram, Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, stated: " at least now we must take the concept of citizenship with a great sense of responsibility. Perhaps there is no country in the world which has such a liberal concept of citizenship as we have had in the last 39 years ".
Referring to its impact on demography, Mr. Chidambaram said " While the overall increase of population in the whole of West Bengal is around 22 per cent, we find that in some of the border districts the rate of increase is as high as 29 per cent, 30 per cent and in some cases even 37 per cent. Why is this so? It is so because India today, in this part of the world, is looked upon as a country of great opportunity and people are coming into this country ".
He added: " We have our own problems. Not that we are not generous to people who want to come to this land. But we cannot be generous at the cost of our own people, at the cost of our own development and we cannot bear the burden of clandestine entry of a large number of people ".
Mentioning grave socio-economic consequences of illegal immigration are now a taboo for human rights activists. Opposition-backed sustained protests against NPR and NRIC are helping shift public gaze from economic woes. As protests have hit normal economic activity especially tourism, they are accentuating the slowdown. It is hurting the daily wage earners including street vendors affected by protests.
All this has turned the so-called Mazboot Sarkar (Strong Govt) into a soft regime, which is at pains to claim that there is no link between NPR and NRC. The fact is there is direct link and there is nothing wrong in acknowledging this fact.
Put simply, NRIC is value-added data subset of NPR. The latter, is turn, is a value-added sub-set of Census, the mother of all Big Data.
UPA Government had described NPR as confidential database of usual residents and non-citizens. It told Parliament that NPR would be used by the Government for "security purposes," apart from better targeting of socio-economic welfare initiatives.
Modi Government too wants use NPR for improving national security and yet it is facing opposition from all parties that were once constituents of UPA. Critics are obsessed with safeguarding of imaginary 'India of India' and 'Soul of India'
Neither camp is interested in discussing the merit of having a multi-purpose, smart-card-based NIC (MNIC). Such cards can combine all other Government-notified identity documents into one. This can lead to significant reduction in cost of governance, apart from ease of convenience to citizens.
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) recorded MNICs advantages in a detailed feasibility study that it prepared for the Government 20 years back. It even coined the slogan - One Country, One Citizen One Card.
UPA, in fact, diluted NICs from the level of citizenship cards to resident identity (smart) cards (RICs). It stated that these would be issued to usual residents as identified under NPR. RICs would have a disclaimer that these don't constitute proof of citizenship. It promised to issue RICs to all by 2010-11. Populism-smitten UPA thus avoided treading path of conferring citizenship on genuine Indians.
UPA regime stated that citizenship would be determined separately through NRIC as and when it is prepared. It realized that denial of citizenship to so-called non-citizens/fake Indians might impact its vote-bank politics.
The issue of citizenship / NICs was studied by the committee of secretaries (CoS). In 2006, It noted that " determination of citizenship was an involved and complicated issue ". In 2013, UPA Cabinet formed a group of ministers (GoM) to study all aspects of issuing RICs to usual residents in the country. The reports of CoS, GoM and an earlier empowered GoM on Aadhaar-NPR convergence are not available in public domain. Hence a comprehensive picture about citizenship row can't be drawn.
Almost everyone has now forgotten about original plan to allot National Identity Number (NIN) to each citizen. NIN has given way to Aadhaar. This number would be embossed on NIC as and when it is issued to any citizen.
And when a nation forgets its past, it runs the risk of repeating the colossal mistakes on demography, the fulcrum of national progress & standard of living. Hence recall of VICs saga is important at this juncture to underscore the consequences of further delay in issue of NICs. The Representation of the People Act, 1951 was amended in 1958 to provide for VICs, which are officially known as Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC).
VICs were first tried in the Calcutta South-West Parliamentary Constituency bye-election in May 1960. Its slipshod implementation put VICs on the back-burner for years. VICs were next experimented with in Sikkim State Assembly polls in 1979. Later, they were tried in Nagaland and Meghalaya in 1982. The cost considerations again put VICs on the back burners till 1989 when Election Commission (EC) formed a committee to study VICs in toto. In 1993, EC discussed VICs proposal with all States. The proposed scheme envisaged 50-50 cost sharing by Centre and States. The States' response was lukewarm. The Centre too baulked at EC's proposal to introduce VICs across the country by 1995 with total expenditure of Rs 1650 crores.
In December 1993, the Government disclosed to Parliament that it has urged EC to reconsider its initiative " keeping in view the enormous cost and practical difficulties involved in its implementation ". EC later kept shifting further goalpost for mandatory coverage of electorate across the country with VICs. It was once set as 31 st December 2002. It was subsequently set at 31 st December 2005. In March 2007, Government admitted that 30% of the electorate has not yet been given VICs.
When fundamentalists opposed photographing of Muslim women for VICs, the Government clarified in March 2014 that EC guidelines already provided for making exceptions subject to its approval of exemptions for a " class of people ".
Now, both fundamentalists and liberals have joined hands against NPR & NRIC to prevent identification of illegal migrants!
Following alarm over large-scale infiltration from Bangladesh and Pakistan, the Government implemented in a staggered manner a scheme to issue identity cards to citizens in border districts of States adjoining these countries.
To give statutory backing to this scheme, it introduced Specified Areas (Issue of Identity Cards to Residents) Bill in March 1993. Next year, it deferred discussion in Lok Sabha as it wanted to revise the Bill.
It is here pertinent to quote late Syed Shahbuddin, a career diplomat-turned politician. Reacting to Congress Government's decision to defer discussion on the bill, he told Lok Sabha in May 1994, he stated: "The most important thing today is that there has been a nation-wide debate during the period that all the citizens should be given an identity card. There seems to be no logic in giving a separate card to some citizens in the specified area when all the citizens willbe given such cards. To my mind, the hon. Home Minister should reconsider the Bill threadbare and if they are willing, then the Bill should be withdrawn".
The Government later let the bill lapse. This is yet another instance of Soft State failing to check illegal immigration.
A similar story is getting enacted now, if back-tracking on NRIC by Modi Government is any indication. It is letting the Opposition dictate the political narrative on illegal migrants by standing on high pedestal of morality.
The Government lacks the courage to take on the opposition by giving all data on illegal immigration, grave security threats and colossal fiscal burden.
It is apt to conclude analysis of Soft State with a quote from CAB 1986 debate in Parliament.
Lok Sabha Member, Sriballav Panigrahi said: " population addition by way of infiltration is eating into vitals of our (economic) progress ".