1. Myanmar violence escalating, creating rights catastrophe: UN
At least 860 civilians killed, says rights office, citing reports
The UN rights chief said on Friday that violence was escalating across Myanmar, warning that the country had plunged into a “human rights catastrophe” since the February 1 coup.
Pointing to reported military build-up in several regions of the country, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for a halt to the already spiralling violence to avert even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency.
“In just over four months, Myanmar has gone from being a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe,” she said in a statement, adding that the military leadership was “singularly responsible” for the crisis.
The country has been in turmoil since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.
The UN rights office pointed on Friday to credible reports showing that at least 860 civilians had been killed in a brutal crackdown by security forces on near-daily protests against the coup.
Fighting has flared in several communities — especially in townships that have seen a high death toll at the hands of police — and some locals have formed “defence forces”.
Ms. Bachelet pointed to intensifying violence in many parts of Myanmar, including Kayah State, Chin State and Kachin State.
“State security forces have continued to use heavy weaponry, including air strikes, against armed groups and against civilians and civilian objects, including Christian churches,” she said.
She pointed to “credible reports” that security forces have used civilians as human shields, shelled civilian homes and churches, and blocked humanitarian access, including by attacking aid workers.
2. Russia to supply hi-tech satellite to Iran: report
It will allow monitoring of West Asia
Russia is set to deliver an advanced satellite system to Iran that will vastly improve its spying capabilities, according to a U.S. media report.
Moscow is preparing to give Iran a Kanopus-V satellite with a high-resolution camera, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
It will allow the Islamic republic to monitor facilities of its adversaries across the West Asia, the newspaper said, citing current and former U.S. and West Asian officials.
The satellite would be launched in Russia and contain Russian-made hardware, according to officials.
3. ‘USFDA move won’t affect India’
V.K. Paul responds to rejection of U.S.nod for Covaxin
The rejection by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) of the emergency use application of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has no impact on policies in India, Dr. V.K. Paul, NITI Aayog member (Health), said at a Union Health Ministry press conference on Friday.
“Every country has its parameter for approval of vaccinations for its population despite the world sharing a common scientific framework for approval. India also follows its own regulatory process for approval that is tailor-made for our population. It’s their decision, it should be respected. Our regulator has endorsed this vaccine and there is no impact on use of Covaxin in our national programme,” he stated, noting that Covaxin phase-3 clinical trial data would be published in the next seven to eight days.
“We expect that the Covaxin manufacturers will be able to comply with the regulators’ requirement. Our regulator has approved this vaccine. We have enough data on safety and efficacy,” he said.
Dr. Paul said the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) was preparing for a national survey. “The ICMR will begin work for next sero survey this month. But if we want to protect our geographies, we won’t have to depend on national sero survey alone, we’ll have to encourage States for sero surveys too,” he said.
Suggestions to reduce the gap between the two doses of Covishield and non-requirement of vaccination for those who have recovered from COVID-19 “are welcome”, he said, adding that revisions can be made “as per data analysis and consultations”.
In a release on Friday, the Health Ministry said the expectation that vaccine wastage should be 1% or less is not at all unreasonable. The vaccines being used now did not have an ‘open vial policy’, i.e., they have to be used within a stipulated time once a vial was opened. The vaccinators were advised to mark the date and time of opening each vial and all opened vials should be used or discarded within four hours of opening.
“Several States have organised COVID-19 vaccination in such a way that not only is there no wastage but they are able to extract more doses from the vial and thus show a negative wastage. Hence, the expectation that vaccine wastage should be 1% or less is not at all unreasonable. It is reasonable, desirable and achievable,’’ said the release.
4. Online module to map out-of-school kids
Centre takes note of disruptions due to COVID-19
With COVID-19-related disruptions to education leading to higher levels of dropouts, the Centre has set up a module to map out-of-school children and connect them to mainstream education through special training centres.
In a letter to State governments on Friday, Education Ministry Joint Secretary, Maneesh Garg, directed them to upload data about all out-of-school children at the block level for monitoring purposes. “In order to facilitate age-appropriate admission of out-of-school children in the age group of 6-14 years in regular schools, financial provisions are made in the [Samagra Shiksha] scheme for arranging special training to bridge their learning gaps and mainstreaming them in schools,” said the letter.
The online module, it said, would allow for the mapping of the children with the nearest Special Training Centres to provide bridge courses.
“For out-of-school children in the 16-18 years of age group and belonging to Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Group, financial assistance has been made available for the first time from the year 2021-22 to continue their education through Open/Distance Learning mode,” it added.
In January, the Education Ministry had directed States to conduct comprehensive door-to-door surveys to identify children who were out of school and migrant students affected by COVID-19 disruptions.
They were told to prepare an action plan to prevent increased dropouts, lower enrolments, loss of learning and deterioration in the gains made in providing universal access, quality and equity in recent years. Schools were also asked to relax detention norms in order to prevent dropouts.
5. Two doses of COVID-19 vaccines cut risk: study
They offer 77% protection against hospitalisation
A study carried out at CMC Vellore has found that two doses of COVID-19 vaccine offer high protection against infection and hospitalisation, even among healthcare workers, who have a high risk of being infected. While the study found vaccination to be protective, it did not investigate the proportion of cases caused by the Beta (B.1.1.7) and Delta (B.1.617.2) variants. The results of the study have been published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
“We were not able to individually study the efficacy of Covishield and Covaxin as only a few received Covaxin,” said Dr. Joy J. Mammen, Professor at the Department of Transfusion Medicine, CMC Vellore, and the corresponding author of the paper. Though over 93% received Covishield, the study shows that vaccinated individuals are better protected compared with unvaccinated individuals.
In total, 8,991 (84.8%) healthcare workers were vaccinated between January 21 and April 30, 2021. A majority of them (nearly 8,400) received Covishield. While not a single death was reported among the 8,958 vaccinated individuals, there was one death among the 1,609 unvaccinated healthcare workers.
The study found that among the 7,080 healthcare workers who received two doses, the vaccines offered 65% protection against infection, 77% protection against hospitalisation, 92% protection against the need for oxygen and 94% protection from ICU admission.
The study found that even a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine offered significantly high protection against both infection and hospitalisation. In 1,878 healthcare workers who received only one dose, protection against infection was 61%, while that against hospitalisation was 70%. In the case of those needing oxygen care and ICU admission, the protection offered by a single dose was 94% and 95%, respectively.
Among the 1,878 healthcare workers who received only one dose, 200 (10.6%) were infected, while only 22 (1.2%) needed hospitalisation. In comparison, among the 7,080 healthcare workers who received two doses, 679 (9.6%) were infected, while 64 (0.9%) needed hospitalisation. Among those who received two doses, only four needed oxygen support and just two needed ICU care.
“Vaccines are working well! Good against infection (in healthcare settings where there is a high risk of transmission), great against severe disease,” Professor of Microbiology at CMC Vellore Dr. Gagandeep Kang said on Twitter. She is not involved in the study.
Among the 1,609 healthcare workers who were not vaccinated, 438 (27.2%) got infected, while 64 (4%) needed hospitalisation. Eleven (0.7%) individuals who did not get any vaccine needed oxygen support and eight (0.5%) needed ICU care.
6. How will food reach migrants without ration cards, asks SC
Court pulls up Centre for delaying database to identify and register workers
The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre how it intended to take food to crores of migrant labourers who have no ration cards.
“How will food reach migrant labourers without ration cards?” a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah addressed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, for the Centre.
The court said the schemes rolled out so far seemed to cover only ration card holders.
Ms. Bhati explained that the Centre had kept its best foot forward with the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana, which covers 80 crore poor identified as beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act. The scheme provides 5 kg of free food grains to every person for May and June. It intends to help the poor tide over the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic. Eight lakh metric tonnes of food grains have already been given, she added.
“No doubt you [the Centre] are providing food… No doubt some migrant labourers have ration cards… But we are only bothered about those who do not have them. We want to know about your mechanism to identify and provide food for people who do not have ration cards…” Justice Bhushan addressed the government side.
Ms. Bhati said the Centre was only in charge of making available or procuring food grains. The States had to distribute the food within their territories. The law officer said the Centre was ready to give the States whatever they wanted.
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, who appeared for some activists along with advocate Prashant Bhushan, said the “Centre was leaving them [the poor without ration cards] to the mercy of the States”. “Those without ration cards cannot be allowed to die… The economic situation is far more dire now,” Mr. Dave said.
Mr. Mehta strongly objected to Mr. Dave’s submissions, saying he was “dramatising” the issue.
In the previous hearing, Mr. Bhushan had submitted that the Centre had last year recorded 8 crore migrant workers without ration cards. The States had identified 2.8 crore of them.
At this point, the court pulled up the government for delaying the completion of a national database to identify and register migrant workers.
The government said the delay had something to do with the “software”. The database would have helped the Centre work in tandem with the States to identify migrant labourers and provide them timely welfare during the pandemic. The government side said the database would be ready in the next three or four months.
“Why do you need three or four months? You are only preparing a database portal,” Justice Bhushan asked.
Ms. Bhati explained that the portal would be an “end-to-end” one, which would not only function as a database but also help in tracking and monitoring benefits meant for migrant labourers.
“It will be a self-sustaining, self-managing portal,” Mr. Mehta assured.
Public Distribution System
- The Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food Security System established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution.
- PDS evolved as a system of management of scarcity through distribution of food grains at affordable prices.
- PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments.
- The Central Government, through Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments.
- The operational responsibilities including allocation within the State, identification of eligible families, issue of Ration Cards and supervision of the functioning of Fair Price Shops (FPSs) etc., rest with the State Governments.
- Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution. Some States/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through the PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.
Evolution of PDS in India
- PDS was introduced around World War II as a war-time rationing measure. Before the 1960s, distribution through PDS was generally dependant on imports of food grains.
- It was expanded in the 1960s as a response to the food shortages of the time; subsequently, the government set up the Agriculture Prices Commission and the FCI to improve domestic procurement and storage of food grains for PDS.
- By the 1970s, PDS had evolved into a universal scheme for the distribution of subsidised food
- Till 1992, PDS was a general entitlement scheme for all consumers without any specific target.
- The Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS) was launched in June, 1992 with a view to strengthen and streamline the PDS as well as to improve its reach in the far-flung, hilly, remote and inaccessible areas where a substantial section of the underprivileged classes lives.
- In June, 1997, the Government of India launched the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) with a focus on the poor.
- Under TPDS, beneficiaries were divided into two categories: Households below the poverty line or BPL; and Households above the poverty line or APL.
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY): AAY was a step in the direction of making TPDS aim at reducing hunger among the poorest segments of the BPL population.
- A National Sample Survey exercise pointed towards the fact that about 5% of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day. In order to make TPDS more focused and targeted towards this category of population, the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” (AAY) was launched in December, 2000 for one crore poorest of the poor families.
- In September 2013, Parliament enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013. The Act relies largely on the existing TPDS to deliver food grains as legal entitlements to poor households. This marks a shift by making the right to food a justiciable right.
How PDS system functions?
- The Central and State Governments share responsibilities in order to provide food grains to the identified beneficiaries.
- The centre procures food grains from farmers at a minimum support price (MSP) and sells it to states at central issue prices. It is responsible for transporting the grains to godowns in each state.
- States bear the responsibility of transporting food grains from these godowns to each fair price shop (ration shop), where the beneficiary buys the food grains at the lower central issue price. Many states further subsidise the price of food grains before selling it to beneficiaries.
Importance of PDS
- It helps in ensuring Food and Nutritional Security of the nation.
- It has helped in stabilising food prices and making food available to the poor at affordable prices.
- It maintains the buffer stock of food grains in the warehouse so that the flow of food remain active even during the period of less agricultural food production.
- It has helped in redistribution of grains by supplying food from surplus regions of the country to deficient regions.
- The system of minimum support price and procurement has contributed to the increase in food grain production.
Issues Associated with PDS System in India
- Identification of beneficiaries: Studies have shown that targeting mechanisms such as TPDS are prone to large inclusion and exclusion errors. This implies that entitled beneficiaries are not getting food grains while those that are ineligible are getting undue benefits.
- According to the estimation of an expert group set up in 2009, PDS suffers from nearly 61% error of exclusion and 25% inclusion of beneficiaries, i.e. the misclassification of the poor as non-poor and vice versa.
- Leakage of food grains: (Transportation leakages + Black Marketing by FPS owners) TPDS suffers from large leakages of food grains during transportation to and from ration shops into the open market. In an evaluation of TPDS, the erstwhile Planning Commission found 36% leakage of PDS rice and wheat at the all-India level.
- Issue with procurement: Open-ended Procurement i.e., all incoming grains accepted even if buffer stock is filled, creates a shortage in the open market.
- Issues with storage: A performance audit by the CAG has revealed a serious shortfall in the government’s storage capacity.
- Given the increasing procurement and incidents of rotting food grains, the lack of adequate covered storage is bound to be a cause for concern.
- The provision of minimum support price (MSP) has encouraged farmers to divert land from production of coarse grains that are consumed by the poor, to rice and wheat and thus, discourages crop diversification.
- Environmental issues: The over-emphasis on attaining self-sufficiency and a surplus in food grains, which are water-intensive, has been found to be environmentally unsustainable.
- Procuring states such as Punjab and Haryana are under environmental stress, including rapid groundwater depletion, deteriorating soil and water conditions from overuse of fertilisers.
- It was found that due to cultivation of rice in north-west India, the water table went down by 33 cm per year during 2002-08.
- Role of Aadhar: Integrating Aadhar with TPDS will help in better identification of beneficiaries and address the problem of inclusion and exclusion errors. According to a study by the Unique Identification Authority of India, using Aadhaar with TPDS would help eliminate duplicate and ghost (fake) beneficiaries, and make identification of beneficiaries more accurate.
- Technology-based reforms of TPDS implemented by states: Wadhwa Committee, appointed by the Supreme court, found that certain states had implemented computerisation and other technology-based reforms to TPDS. Technology-based reforms helped plug leakages of food grains during TPDS.
- Tamil Nadu implements a universal PDS, such that every household is entitled to subsidised food grains.
- States such as Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have implemented IT measures to streamline TPDS, through the digitisation of ration cards, the use of GPS tracking of delivery, and the use of SMS based monitoring by citizens.
Technology-based reforms to TPDS undertaken by some states
|Type of reform||Benefits of reform||States implementing reforms|
|Digitisation of ration cards||Allows for online entry and verification of beneficiary dataOnline storing of monthly entitlement of beneficiaries, number of dependants, offtake of food grains by beneficiaries from FPS, etc.||Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, etc.|
|Computerised allocation to FPS||Computerises FPS allocation, declaration of stock balance, web-based truck challans, etc.Allows for quick and efficient tracking of transactions||Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc.|
|Issue of smart cards in place of ration cards||Secure electronic devices used to store beneficiary dataStores data such as name, address, biometrics, BPL/APL category and monthly entitlement of beneficiaries and family membersPrevents counterfeiting||Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha etc.|
|Use of GPS technology||Use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track movement of trucks carrying food grains from state depots to FPS||Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu|
|SMS based monitoring||Allows monitoring by citizens so they can register their mobile numbers and send/receive SMS slerts during dispatch and arrival of TPDS commodities||Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu|
|Use of web-based citizens’ portal||Publicises grievance redressal machinery, such as toll free number for call centres to register complaints or suggestions||Chhattisgarh|
PDS vs. Cash Transfers
- National Food Security Act,2013 provides for reforms in the TPDS including schemes such as Cash transfers for provisioning of food entitlements.
- Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) aims to:
- reduce the need for huge physical movement of foodgrains
- provide greater autonomy to beneficiaries to choose their consumption basket
- enhance dietary diversity
- reduce leakages
- facilitate better targeting
- promote financial inclusion
Advantages and disadvantages of PDS and other delivery mechanisms
|PDS||Insulates beneficiaries from inflation and price volatilityEnsures entitlement is used for food grains onlyWell-developed network of FPS ensures access to food grains even in remote areas||Low offtake of food grains from each household High leakage and diversion of subsidised food grain Adulteration of food grainLack of viability of FPS due to low margins|
|Cash transfers||Cash in the hands of poor increases their choicessCash may relieve financial constraints faced by the poor, make it possible to form thrift societies and access creditAdministrative costs of cash transfer programmes may be significantly lesser than that of other schemesPotential for making electronic transfer||Cash can be used buy non-food itemsMay expose recipients to price volatility and inflationThere is poor access to banks and post offices in some areas|
|Food coupons||Household is given the freedom to choose where it buys foodIncreases incentive for competitive prices and assured quality of food grains among PDS storesRation shops get full food grains from the poor, no incentive to turn the poor away||Food coupons are not indexed for inflation; may expose recipients to inflationDifficult to administer; there have known to be delays in issuing food coupons and reimbursing shops|
7. Editorial-1: Counting the dead
Measuring excess deaths is the best possible way to estimate the count of COVID-19 deaths
The real time mortality impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is an important statistical measure to guide policy responses. But measuring the actual count is not an easy task. WHO, in January 2021, had estimated, based on excess deaths data in Europe and the American continents, that actual deaths were at least 1.6 times over the official count. The problem of under-counting, even in mature public health systems across the developed world, is largely because patients who die due to cardiovascular issues among others even after apparent recovery from COVID-19 are sometimes not tracked and registered as COVID-19-related deaths. This is why even in Kerala — with 100% registration of deaths and a relatively low case fatality rate — following criticisms about the methodology to evaluate whether a death was related to COVID-19, the health administration in the districts, rather than a State-level audit committee, will now audit deaths. But there is another class of under-counting across States, where health bulletins mislead by reporting a lower number of cases and deaths. This is the case with Bihar where the reported toll was suddenly increased by 72% following a Health Department review after the Patna High Court found discrepancies in figures cited by different agencies in Buxar district. Bihar is among the States in India with the lowest civil registration of deaths, with barely 34.1% of the dead being registered, according to the Civil Registration System (CRS) report of 2018. Estimations of the actual count of the dead are difficult to obtain in other States such as Uttar Pradesh as well, where public health systems are poor and neither the infections nor deaths have been effectively tracked, especially in rural areas, where many have died outside of hospitals.
One method to assess the actual number of deaths due to COVID-19 is by calculating the excess deaths during the given period when the pandemic has raged, compared to the baseline mortality occurring in similar time frames before the pandemic. This exercise also works best if death registrations are relatively high, which should be possible in most districts as registration of deaths has improved to 76% according to CRS 2018. Excess deaths analyses in Gujarat, Chennai and Kolkata based on collations of preliminary registration data by news organisations suggest that they were nearly 10, five and seven times higher, respectively, than reported fatalities during the second wave. If the CRS datasets, maintained by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India besides State registrars and municipal officials with a good quality of registration, are made available, it would enable better estimation of the actual mortality figures. In the meantime, only honest reporting of the deaths will help provide better mitigation strategies.
8. Editorial-2: Persecuted in Pakistan, ignored in India
Hundreds of Pakistani Hindus have migrated to India in search of security and citizenship but are caught in a maze of rules and regulations that have left them stateless for years. Mohammed Iqbal reports on their plight and the politics around citizenship
For two decades, Jogdas Maharaj waited in vain for Indian citizenship. Last month, the 82-year-old man, highly respectedin the Kali Beri settlement of Pakistani Hindu migrants near Jodhpur, Rajasthan, died stateless.
Maharaj crossed the border into India with nine family members in August 2000. He decided to stay in the country, in Jodhpur, to escape the economic hardship and discrimination he was facing in Rahimyar Khan district in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. “Our father passed away waiting for citizenship. Our family has 19 members and we have nowhere to go,” says Harjiram Bheel, Maharaj’s son.
Bheel says the family has been wandering from one citizenship camp to another over the years. These camps were organised by the Union Home Ministry from time to time to receive new applications for citizenship and dispose of or clear old ones. But the camps have not been successful because of red-tapism. Bheel’s family is one among many whose Pakistani passports and Indian visas have expired.
Karamshi Koli, 43, who migrated to India in 2015, lives as an asylum-seeker in the Anganwa hutment. Koli says he has not even succeeded in getting a long-term visa which would enable him to find a private job or take up self-employment to sustain his family.
The weary residents of the mud houses in Anganwa, adjacent to a water filtration plant, have no access to electricity, water, toilets and sanitation facilities. Women and children fetch water from a well in the Shri Khetanand temple situated 2 km away, while solar lights — some donated by philanthropists and some purchased by some of the migrants — are used at night.
The number of Pakistani Hindu migrants staying in 21 settlements in Jodhpur district is estimated to be about 30,000. The land where they have built their ramshackle dwellings belongs either to the Municipal Corporation or the village panchayats and Forest Department. These migrants came to India expectantly, but their eagerness has turned into disillusionment over time. They are unhappy with the way they are being treated in a country which they had hoped would accept them wholeheartedly and they could call home.
No sense of belonging
Young Laxman Singh, who hails from Sindh’s Mirpur Khas district, says unhappily that migrants like him seem to belong nowhere. “We faced persecution on the ground of our religious identity in Pakistan. In India, we are being ostracised for being Pakistanis,” he says. Most men like him, who were landless farmers or daily labourers in Pakistan, have failed to find any gainful employment in or around Jodhpur. The pandemic-related lockdowns have only made matters worse.
Hemji Koli, who is a shelter manager on a contractual basis with the Municipal Corporation, runs a ‘Chetana’ study centre on behalf of a non-governmental organisation, Universal Just Action Society, in the Anganwa settlement. The centre provides basic literacy to children up to five years of age and tuition to those going to nearby government schools. About 350 children who were attending school before the COVID-19 outbreak have been confined at home for over a year due to the pandemic.
“No person in this locality has been given citizenship so far. This is a relatively new settlement. The only saving grace is that we have not been driven out of this land,” Hemji says. Some migrants in the other settlements have got citizenship after completing the mandatory 11 years of stay for eligibility under the Citizenship Act of 1955, but even they struggle daily to get food, water, healthcare and education.
Since 2014, most Hindu migrants have been entering India, into western Rajasthan and northern Gujarat, on a pilgrim visa. They often leave their family members in Pakistan in the hope that they can travel later when they find employment in India. However, they are invariably disappointed when they are left to fend for themselves.
The migrants are mostly Dalits from the Meghwal, Koli, Bhil, Jatav, Kumawat and Mali communities. They are considered underprivileged on both sides of the international border, though some caste Hindus, belonging to the Rajput, Maheshwari and Brahmin communities, have also crossed into India.
They all say that they were segregated and persecuted in Pakistan on religious grounds. They say young girls are sometimes abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in the interior areas of Sindh. Their children faced discrimination in government schools. Their shops and commercial establishments were attacked by robbers. And Hindu residents were not allowed to buy property.
Hindu Singh Sodha, president of the Seemant Lok Sangathan, an organisation working for the welfare of migrants, points out that there have been three waves of migration of Hindus to India from Pakistan. The first was during and after Partition. During the 1971 war, about 90,000 persons migrated to India when Indian troops strategically occupied important areas 50 km deep inside Pakistan. The third wave, which started as a result of a backlash against Hindus during the Ram temple movement and after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, has been a prolonged one. Migrants still continue to come to India. Also, in 1996, the Taliban captured power in Afghanistan. This led to a change in atmosphere in Pakistan, with the minority communities in the Balochistan and Sindh Provinces increasingly being targeted.
A maze of rules and regulations
While a growing sense of insecurity in Pakistan has led to the migration of thousands of Hindus over the past two decades, they cannot expect to get the status of refugees because India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, nor its 1967 Protocol. The Pakistani immigrants do not receive the protection or benefits which they would have been entitled to on getting official refugee status if India had been a signatory.
All foreign nationals, including asylum-seekers, are governed by the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946; the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939; the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920; and the Citizenship Act, 1955, as well as the rules and orders framed under these laws. The Union government possesses the power to detain and deport foreigners and restrict their movements, but it has no international obligation to enact a legislation for refugees.
For accessing legal entitlements and services, Indian citizenship is the only viable option for the migrants. But the migrants face major challenges in obtaining citizenship status, ranging from the condition of having stayed in India for a certain number of years to keeping the registration permit from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office up-to-date and paying a hefty fee for frequent renewal of their long-term visas.
Having all the Indian documents is not enough. The migrant must also hold an unexpired Pakistani passport, which can only be obtained at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. Bhagchand Bhil, who left his medical practice in Karachi and crossed the border in 2014, says that most of the migrants are illiterate and unable to decipher and navigate this maze of rules and regulations, which makes them vulnerable to deceit and exploitation by government officials.
Even when they do get citizenship, their problems don’t end. Obtaining documents such as ration cards and caste certificates is no easy task and they find it difficult to avail themselves of the benefits of the government’s healthcare, education and employment schemes. Sodha, who had himself migrated as a young boy from Tharparkar district’s Chachro town in 1971, rues that there is no provision for the rehabilitation of people from Pakistan.
The Seemant Lok Sangathan has raised these issues repeatedly with the Union Home Ministry over the past few years. While affirming that the government needs to be migrant-friendly, Sodha has sought the grant of citizenship through special camps, which will benefit the migrants who still have their family members in Pakistan. “During the last 30 years, I have not found a single family which says it has no member over there. The families are divided,” he says.
Improving the lives of migrants
Sodha feels that the Pakistan High Commission should be persuaded to withdraw the increased fee that the migrants are charged for renunciation of their Pakistani citizenship, which is mandatory for them to do before getting their Indian citizenship, and provide easy facilities for renewal of passports and identity cards. Besides, he says, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be approached for incorporating the minority migrants in its regular programmes for refugees.
Moreover, the gaps in livelihood development and rehabilitation status should be identified at the State level and a robust policy for rehabilitation introduced at the Central level for migrant families, he says. Stateless persons belonging to higher castes, who comprise 20% of the migrant population, manage the hardship better because of their socioeconomic condition. They are generally engaged in business or private employment.
The children of these migrants are the worst affected. Schools reluctantly give them admission and do not provide them emotional support and counseling. The children struggle as their medium of instruction was Urdu and Sindhi in Pakistan and Hindi in India. They are often singled out by the teachers and other students because of their Pakistani origin. Government schools, which earlier demanded their identity proof, started giving them admission only a couple of years ago.
Despite this, some migrant children have excelled in their studies. Chandra Prakash, son of a migrant teacher, Manjhiana Rana, topped Class 12 at the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad School, run by the Marwar Muslim Educational and Welfare Society, in 2019. Chandra Prakash is now studying MBBS at the Sardar Patel Government Medical College in Bikaner.
The Marwar Muslim Educational and Welfare Society’s CEO, Mohammed Atiq, says plans are afoot to open a primary school this year exclusively for the children of migrants at a plot of land situated near the Maulana Azad University in Bujhawar village. The school will be gradually upgraded to include higher education after the intake of 60 children in the first year.
As an indication of the State government’s consideration for the rehabilitation of the migrants, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot inaugurated the Vinoba Bhave Nagar housing scheme for them, comprising 1,700 plots at the land measuring 300 bighas, in Chokha village near Jodhpur earlier this month. The residential scheme, announced in the 2021-22 State Budget, will be executed by the Jodhpur Development Authority.
Hope and despair
On the one hand, the government is making efforts to improve their quality of life, but on the other, the migrants have also had to face the problem of exploitation by government officials. In May 2018, a racket involving extortion of money from the migrants for extension of long-term visa, visa transfer, and grant of citizenship came to light after the arrest of a Home Ministry official by the Rajasthan Anti-Corruption Bureau. The official visited Jodhpur regularly to attend hearings on writ petitions moved by the migrants in the Rajasthan High Court. The official had three agents who identified themselves as Pakistani migrants with Indian citizenship. The case indicated that a larger nexus was at work to exploit the migrants for money. The Anti-Corruption Bureau’s probe revealed that the official had demanded and accepted bribes from about 3,000 migrants in 2017 alone.
The inordinate delay in the grant of citizenship has led to a host of problems for the migrants. In November last year, a migrant woman, Janta Mali, was reunited with her family in western Rajasthan after being stranded in Pakistan for 10 months during the lockdown. Since her No Objection to Return to India (NORI) visa had expired, she was not allowed to travel back. Mali’s husband and children, who are Indian citizens, travelled back to India in July 2020 after visiting her ailing mother in Pakistan’s Mirpur Khas. The Seemant Lok Sangathan took up the issue with the Rajasthan government and the Centre and succeeded in bringing her back after six months by getting her visa extended.
Though the migrants have been staying in cities in western Rajasthan such as Barmer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner for several years, Jodhpur emerged as the preferred destination after the Thar Express train linking Karachi with Bhagat Ki Kothi railway station started in 2006. The train was stopped in August 2019 when tensions escalated between India and Pakistan following India’s revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The Munabao-Khokhrapar rail route was restored after a gap of 41 years following the 1965 war to reduce the distance and journey of time for people from central and southern Indian States travelling to Pakistan. It gained popularity among the Pakistani Hindus who wanted to migrate to India. The train was also used by migrants frustrated by the delay in the grant of long-term visa or citizenship to return to Pakistan.
Bone of contention
On May 28, the Union Home Ministry issued a notification inviting non-Muslim migrants residing in 13 districts of five States to apply for Indian citizenship. It also empowered the Collectors of these districts to grant citizenship certificates. This has become the latest bone of contention between civil rights activists and asylum-seekers. The notification is applicable to migrants belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
While the Collectors of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Jaisalmer districts were empowered to grant citizenship in 2016, the new notification has now delegated the same powers to the Collectors of Jalore, Udaipur, Pali, Barmer and Sirohi districts. Sodha says these powers should be conferred on the Collectors of all districts in the State to speed up the process of application, security check, and inquiry for grant of citizenship.
The Home Ministry says that the latest notification is not related to the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) of 2019, which has not come into effect and seeks to benefit the undocumented or illegal migrants from the six “persecuted communities” who entered India before December 31, 2014. The CAA will reduce the requirement of 11 years of aggregate stay in India to five years for citizenship, which would help fast-track the applications of migrants.
The president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Rajasthan, Kavita Srivastava, disagrees. She says that the notification amounts to implementation of the CAA “by stealth” even as the law has been challenged in the Supreme Court. “The delegation of powers to the Collectors is only with respect to the communities covered by the CAA and not those otherwise eligible for citizenship by registration and naturalisation,” she says. While demanding immediate withdrawal of the notification as well as nullification of the CAA, Srivastava says the notification’s intention is to rush through citizenship without waiting for the court’s verdict. She says it is also in complete disregard to the massive protests against the law in late 2019 and early 2020. “It is the first salvo towards implementing the 2019 Act, as its intention is to keep Muslims out of the purview of the citizenship law,” she says.
Civil rights groups have called for taking measures to smoothen and hasten the process for grant of citizenship to migrants irrespective of their religious identity. Popular Front of India’s State president Mohammed Asif says the organisation will stage protests against the May 28 notification in a democratic manner once the COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted, as it bears resemblance to the CAA which discriminates on the ground of religion.
A new issue that the migrants are now facing is inaccessibility to vaccines. This remains unresolved despite the intervention of the Rajasthan High Court. The State government has refused to inoculate those who do not possess Aadhaar cards or other prescribed documents. About 15 migrants, including those who tested positive for COVID-19 and those suspected to have the virus or are symptomatic, have died in Jodhpur during the second wave of infections.
A Division Bench of the High Court, which earlier ruled that the Centre’s standard operating procedure on vaccination did not exclude the migrants from Pakistan, has hauled up the State government for seeking clarification from the Union government, and sought an explanation from the Chief Secretary. The migrants settled in Barmer have started getting vaccinated on the basis of their Pakistani passports.
Hearing the additional submissions made on behalf of the migrants in a suo motu case, the court also directed the State government to supply ration material and food packets to them through the Food and Civil Supplies Departments, local bodies and non-governmental organisations. It was submitted to the court that only the migrants residing in Jodhpur were getting the food packets, while those in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jaipur districts were deprived of food supply during the pandemic.
Hoping against hope that their basic needs will be met, the Pakistani Hindu migrants are caught in a vicious circle of poverty and vulnerability. They face an unresponsive government and uncertain legislation. Out of their homeland and across the border, the migrants wait endlessly for the day when they can call India their true home.