Political rhetoric is easy. You can say what you want and perhaps get away with it. But not if you are the Union Home Minister and your views reflect the views of the government. Home Minister Amit Shah has pushed India into a deep crisis and this time, he may well have to retract, or he runs the risk of pushing India into a deep humanitarian crisis.
The Citizenship Amendment Act has sparked off protests across the country, but it is BJP’s sustained rhetoric of the NRC that is fueling uncertainty and anger. Though the government now claims that the two issues are not linked, the issue has already festered for too long and gone too far, and the Government cannot wish the crisis away.
The Government needs to give India clarity on the roadmap for NRC if it really wants to do it. The Government now needs to answer three critical questions- What is going to be the timeline for implementing the NRC and what does it plan to do with citizens who are not able to prove they are citizens? Will they be deported, or will they continue to live in India in detention camps?
One wonders if the Government even understands the magnitude of what it is going to do? It would require thousands of crores to set up detention camps for the 19-lakh people left out of NRC in Assam. The money needed to set up detention camps for all suspected Bangladeshi illegals could well run into a few lakh crores. But even if the Government was willing to spend that kind of money, the human costs would be so huge that it would put humanity to shame.
Home Minister Amit Shah has been talking about the NRC for a while now, but BJP’s rhetoric turned into government policy when he spoke on the CAB in Parliament. “The process of NRC will be carried out across the country. No one irrespective of religion should be worried, it is just a process to get everyone under the NRC,” he told the Rajya Sabha on November 20. Though he talked about throwing out illegal residents, he did not say where he wished to throw them or what he planned to do if and when these illegals are identified.
President Ramnath Kovind last week gave his assent to the CAA, making it the law of the land. While the provisions of the Act have been challenged in court, it has sparked off a series of protests in Assam and the North East over the basic provisions of the act. The protests in the rest of the country have been aimed not only on the provisions of the CAA but also on the draconian NRC which would basically require every Indian prove their citizenship on the basis of their family tree.
While the BJP has been playing the NRC card for a few years now, it does not seem to understand that it is going to require 130 crore citizens to dig out documents and prove that their families have their origins in the country. That would require millions of Indians, who had moved to cities over the last seven decades, to go back and trace their ancestry. Many would have no families left in the villages and would have to spend money on stay and travel. The economic and social cost would be huge.
The Government is staring at a logistical nightmare if it does decide to roll-out NRC on a national level. The NRC exercise in Assam cost around ₹1,600 crores over a 10-year period and employed around 52,000 people. If the Government were to roll this out on a national scale, the cost and manpower itself would be prohibitive. We would be looking at an expense of around ₹50,000 Crore in just administrative expenses (1,600 Crore to verify a population of just over 3 Crore in Assam; so for a population of 130 crores, the administrative expense will be correspondingly higher), not exactly pocket change.
The much bigger problem, however, is that even if the Government is able to identify the allegedly two crore illegal Bangladeshis saying in India, as MoS Home Kiren Rijju had claimed in November 2016, what would the Government do with them?
Data in 2017 indicated that the Government had been able to send back around 600 illegal Bangladeshi migrants per year and it will be centuries before the government would be able to send back Bangladeshis at this rate.
India enjoys friendly relations with Bangladesh and though they have said they are willing to take back their citizens who had illegally migrated to India, the onus of providing that they are Bangladeshi citizens would rest on India. Till 2018, a total of 91,609 persons had been declared or convicted as foreigners and only 128 had been sent back till August 31, 2018.
The other really big challenge would be to set up a detention camp for the two crore people. In September 2019, the Assam government started setting up a detention camp in Goalpara district for around 3,000 people. The cost for the project was estimated at ₹45 crores. If the government were to construct a detention camp to house 19 lakh people who have been excluded in NRC list in Assam, the cost would be close to a massive ₹28,500 crore.
Now imagine the policy being rolled out on the national level. With an estimated 2 crore Bangladeshis, the Government may have to spend a massive ₹2-3 lakh crore to construct and maintain detention camps. The number of illegal Bangladeshis in India would be close to the population of Romania and Sri Lanka.
Since these people would be lodged in Detention Camps, they would not be able to make a living and hence would have to be provided for. Keeping the monthly consumption as a base, the government would have to provide ₹ 1,500 per month for every inmate of these camps. This would mean an expense of ₹3,000 crores per month or ₹36,000 crores a year just to take care of the basics.
Like almost everything on the BJP Manifesto, the NRC idea is driven by rhetoric and not backed by any execution plans or even understanding what it means.
The question is whether the Government will give its NRC plans a quiet burial or will it bring a cabinet note to take the process forward.
Home Minister Amit Shah should answer soon.