NRC and the work permit formula -Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty
* An exclusive excerpt from a forthcoming book on the Assam Accord takes a critical look at the NRC crisis
* The passage analyses the pros and cons of the debate over a work-permit formula to deal with the situation.
One of the foremost thinkers to academically elaborate on the formula (of work permits in Assam) was author–journalist–rights activist Sanjoy Hazarika in Rites of Passage: Border Crossings, Imagined Homelands, India’s East and Bangladesh in 2000. Treating the problem as an economic one, Hazarika proposed work permits for groups of 15–20 persons rather than individuals. The permits should be like passports with details of individuals, their employers and the length of stay of the group in India, the validity of which could be extended for a period of two years. The workers would not enjoy political rights, such as the right to vote, buy property or settle in India, but will have human rights and could approach courts and labour commissions in case their rights were violated….
However, the work permit formula has its inherent problems. One is of political consensus. While Congress has never backed the idea, the BJP always has. Speaking at an election rally in the Bengali dominated Silchar town of Assam in May 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said that his government was considering such a formula for suspected foreigners who could not be evicted due to a host of legal and constitutional problems. Did he then refer to a need for India to formulate a migration policy vis-à-vis Bangladesh? How much thought did he intend to give for the interests of the smaller communities who would have to face migration? The idea was not taken forward by the Vajpayee government. Pushpita Das, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), New Delhi, in her monograph, ‘Illegal Migration from Bangladesh: Deportation, Border Fences and Work Permits’, hinted at the Modi government working on Vajpayee’s idea: ‘Apparently, the proposal was first mooted a year earlier during the visit of the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Dhaka. Nothing has come out of it officially though. [Of the 40 lakh left out of the final draft NRC, 31 lakh filed claims forms till 31 December 2018.]’
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