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Human Rights, Politics

Citizenship Amendment Bill

There are many reasons to oppose the government’s Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) combined with a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). In its current form, the CAB seems to violate article 14 of the Constitution, which protects all persons, not just citizens, from discrimination. However, even those who support its stated objective should oppose it for one simple reason—its extremely high cost of error, which, given India’s poor state capacity, is inevitable.

The CAB aims to amend India’s Citizenship Act, which lays down the elements of Indian citizenship. The amendment states that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of that Act”. It protects individuals belonging to some groups from being declared illegal immigrants (and facing detention/deportation), and fast-tracks their citizenship, but categorically excludes Muslim immigrants from getting similar protection, even if they belong to minority and persecuted groups such as Ahmadis or Rohingyas.

The government is also considering a nationwide NRC. Once created, the NRC will list the names of all those included as Indian citizens. Those not on the list will get a chance to prove their status as citizens. If the exercise turns out like the one in Assam, those excluded will have a short period to appeal their exclusion, failing which they would face detention and deportation.

The exercise would be highly prone to error—both Type I and Type II. Type I errors, or false positives, mean mistakenly identifying a person as an immigrant from protected minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and erroneously giving them the benefit of Indian citizenship. Immigrants are usually a net economic benefit; so the costs of Type I errors are related to national security. These costs are not nationwide and typically limited to a handful of border districts in India.

Type II errors, or false negatives, occur when those who qualify as Indian citizens are mistakenly categorized as illegal immigrants. A nationwide NRC, if similar to the one in Assam, would imply that false negatives get sent to detention centres or deported, making Type II errors extremely costly. To minimize false negatives, the bar to qualify as a citizen has to be very simple and easily identifiable. Also, the state capacity to scrutinize the paperwork for the NRC has to be exceptionally high. The Indian state usually fails on both counts. Given the CAB’s current religious exclusionary basis, Muslims are at higher risk of exclusion through false negatives, though all groups, including Hindus, are likely to be affected by errors.

There are three main issues to consider here. The first is the trade-off between Type I and Type II errors. If, to avoid false positives, the government has a high level of scrutiny for NRC inclusion, all individuals will have the burden of meeting this higher bar. In the process, some might be mistakenly excluded. On the other hand, if the bar is set very low to prevent false negatives and erroneous exclusions, then some illegal immigrants may slip through the cracks. The current CAB framework, combined with the NRC, is set up to minimize false positives, which will automatically increase false negatives.

The second issue to consider is whether the costs of both kinds of errors are symmetric. In the case of symmetric costs, the trade-off between the two kinds of errors is of less concern. However, when the costs are asymmetric, the trade-off in the system must be considered. Illegal immigration is a minuscule problem nationwide and the concern of terrorist conduits is an issue in a handful of border districts. However, false negatives—that is, mistakenly excluding an Indian from the NRC—has an extremely high human cost because of the severe penalties. False negatives could tear families apart, and force the poor, who tend to lack documents, to spend their resources on legal appeals against detention, or spend years at detention centres. So, trading Type I errors for Type II errors is a very bad bargain for Indians.

The third issue is of the magnitude of error. If the government executes the task exceptionally well, such as for voter identity, and has a Type II error rate of just 5%, 67.5 million people will face action, equalling the human displacement caused by World War II. Most Indian systems have a far higher error rate. The State Of Aadhaar Report 2017-18 by IDinsight, covering 2,947 households, found that 8.8% of Aadhaar holders reported errors in their name, age, address or other information in their Aadhaar letter. In the NRC, a spelling mistake can deprive one of citizenship and 8.8% affects over 120 million people. If the Indian state outsources the project’s execution to an organization with capacity equalling Scandinavian government systems, with a very low error rate of 1%, 13.5 million Indians would still be erroneously excluded, equalling the human displacement caused by Partition.

Those who support the idea of the CAB and NRC need to take a hard look at our state capability to execute such a policy across the country. Once the human costs of error are acknowledged, surely even they would find it difficult to support such an error-prone exercise.

*Shruti Rajagopalan is a senior research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, US

Human Rights

Federal US commission seeks sanctions against home minister Amit Shah

WASHINGTON: A federal US commission on international religious freedom has said that the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is a “dangerous turn in wrong direction” and sought American sanctions against home minister Amit Shah if the bill is passed by both houses of the Indian Parliament.
According to the proposed Bill, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014 facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
In a statement issued on Monday, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that it was deeply troubled over the passage of the bill in Lok Sabha.

Will Citizenship Amendment Bill legalise religious discrimination?

“If the CAB passes in both houses of Parliament, the US government should consider sanctions against the home minister Amit Shah and other principal leadership,” the commission said.
“USCIRF is ‘deeply troubled’ by the passage of the CAB, originally introduced by home minister Shah, in the Lok Sabha given the religion criterion in the bill,” it added.
Shah on Monday introduced the controversial bill in Lok Sabha,

where it was passed with 311 members favouring

it and 80 voting against it, will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha for its nod.
Shah while introducing the bill had made it clear that people belonging to any religion should not have any fear under Prime Minister Narendra Modi government as he asserted that the bill will give relief to those minorities who have been living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries.

Shah asserted that the bill has the “endorsement of 130 crore Indian citizens” and rejected suggestions that the measure is anti-Muslims, saying it will give rights to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
“Citizenship (Amendment) Bill has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” he said.
However, the bill has been opposed by the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other Opposition parties.
USCIRF alleged that the CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion.
“The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith,” it said.
Stating that in conjunction with the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and nationwide NRC that home Minister Shah seeks to propose, the commission said: “USCIRF fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims”.
It also said that for more than a decade now the Indian government has ignored the statements and annual reports of the USCIRF.
India from the days of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime has consistently said that it does not recognises a third country’s views or reports on its internal affairs.
It is based on this ground that India for more than a decade now has denied visas to USCIRF to travel to India for their on the ground assessment of the religious freedom in India.
Recommendations of USCIRF are not enforceable. However, its recommendations are seriously taken into consideration by the US government in particular the State Department which is tasked with powers to take sanctionable actions against foreign entities and individuals for violation of religious freedom and human rights.

Congress will restore special category status to Arunachal, other Northeast states: Rahul Gandhi

Itanagar: Arunachal Pradesh is special to the Congress party, leader Rahul Gandhi said at an Itanagar rally on Tuesday, promising to restore the special category status to the state and others in the Northeast if voted to power.

“There are some states in the country which require special status because of their ‘unique problems and difficulties’ such as connectivity, terrain, infrastructure,” Gandhi said at the election rally.

During the Congress rule at the Centre, he said, Arunachal Pradesh and other NE states enjoyed special category status.

“Arunachal Pradesh has a special place in the heart of the Congress party and we would like to have a dil ka rishta with the people of the state,” he said.

Rahul also said the Congress would not pass in the Rajya Sabha the controversial Citizenship Amend Bill that has got the BJP much flak in recent times. Calling the Bill ‘detrimental’ to the Northeast people, he said the Congress would never allow the “suppression of the people of the Northeast”. The NDA does not have majority in the Upper House.

The Congress would never attack the indigenous language, culture, customs and traditions of Arunachal and other Northeast states, Rahul said.

The government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016. It seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 that gives citizenship to illegal migrants of Hindu, Sikh, Busshist, Jain, Parsi and Christian origin. The Act, however, does not have a provision for Muslims who are Shias and Ahmediyas and who face persecution in neighbouring countries.

The Assam Gano Parishad has threatened to cut ties with ally BJP over this, stating that this law attacks the cultural and linguistic identities of population here. Opposition parties have also slammed this attempt to grant citizenship on the basis of religion.

Election to the 60-member Arunachal Pradesh Assembly and two Lok Sabha seats will be held on April 11.