1. India needs a refugee and asylum law
On refugee issues, it ought to be among the most admired nations and not one that has much to be ashamed of as now
This month I introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha proposing the enactment of a Refugee and Asylum law. The Bill lays down comprehensive criteria for recognising asylum seekers and refugees and prescribes specific rights and duties accruing from such status. It was made necessary by our government’s continuing disrespect for the international legal principle of non-refoulement — the cornerstone of refugee law, which states that no country should send a person to a place where he or she may face persecution — and even more, its betrayal of India’s millennial traditions of asylum and hospitality to strangers.
A slew of examples
The Government has shamefully expelled to Myanmar two batches of Rohingya refugees in the face of a grave risk of persecution in the country they had fled. In conducting this act of “refoulement” in violation of international law, the Government revealed both religious bigotry (the refugees were Muslim) and intolerance. It has attempted to do the same with Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmarese in Mizoram. Today, Afghan students stranded in India by the takeover of their country by the Taliban have not had their visas renewed, and could find themselves in a similar predicament.
My Bill would put an end to such arbitrary conduct by the authorities. The right to seek asylum in India would be available to all foreigners irrespective of their nationality, race, religion, or ethnicity, and a National Commission for Asylum would be constituted to receive and decide all such applications. The principle of non-refoulement is clearly affirmed, with no exceptions, though reasons have been specified for exclusion, expulsion, and revocation of refugee status, to respect the Government’s sovereign authority but limit its discretion.
When I use the word “refugee”, of course, I do so in the internationally-accepted definition of the term, which embraces people who have fled their home countries and crossed an international border because of a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries, on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. This means that people who cross borders in quest of economic betterment, or because they are fleeing poverty, anarchy or environmental disaster, do not qualify as refugees. Nor do those who flee from one part of their home country to another because of war, conflict or fear of persecution.
India has been, and continues to be, a generous host to several persecuted communities, doing more than many countries, but is neither a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, nor does it have a domestic asylum framework. This is ironic, given that our record on asylum goes back millennia, from the Jewish people who fled to India centuries before Christ after the demolition of their Jerusalem Temple by the Babylonians and then the Romans, to the Zoroastrians fleeing Islamic persecution in Persia, to Tibetans, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankan Tamils in more recent years, as well as streams of Nepalis, Afghans and the Rohingya. (Indeed, so famed was our reputation as a land of asylum that a defeated Cleopatra thought of sending her son to the safety of India’s west coast, before killing herself. Alas, her son made the fatal mistake of turning back midway to stake his claim to the throne, and met with a gory end, or he might have lived happily ever after in India!)
In fact, it is quite deeply embedded in the Indian psyche that nobody should ever have to face the predicament of being driven out of their home. Our great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both dwell at great length upon the injustice of the protagonists being forced into exile, and the nobility involved in extending support and succour to the exiles. And the fact that one of our most popular festivals, Deepavali, celebrates the homecoming of refugees after 14 years of exile, demonstrates fully how important the concept of home and the homeland is to an Indian.
Given this history, India ought to be a natural leader on the question of refugee rights on the world stage. However, our present actions and our lack of a legal framework does our heritage no credit, shames us in the eyes of the world, and fails to match up to our actual past track record.
No uniform law
In the absence of a uniform and comprehensive law to deal with asylum seekers, we lack a clear vision or policy on refugee management. We have a cocktail of laws such as the Foreigners Act, 1946, the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, the Passports Act (1967), the Extradition Act, 1962, the Citizenship Act, 1955 (including its controversial 2019 amendment) and the Foreigners Order, 1948 — all of which club all foreign individuals together as “aliens”. Because India has neither subscribed to international conventions on the topic nor set up a domestic legislative framework to deal with refugees, their problems are dealt with in an ad hoc manner, and like other foreigners they always face the possibility of being deported.
When we speak of refugee protection, we often limit ourselves to just providing asylum. We need a proper framework to make sure that refugees can access basic public services, be able to legally seek jobs and livelihood opportunities for some source of income. The absence of such a framework will make the refugees vulnerable to exploitation, especially human trafficking. In 2011 when India came out with a Standard Operating Procedure to provide Long Term Visas to asylum seekers, I had pointed out that in the absence of a law, the application of these notifications can be easily tampered with based on political and extraneous reasons. Our officials want the freedom to do as they please — for political or other reasons — without being confined by the limits of a law.
We can, and must, do better. India must enact a National Asylum Law, such as the one I have been demanding for years and presented to Parliament earlier this month. India currently hosts more than two lakh refugees but the Bharatiya Janata Party government’s churlish attitude to the Rohingya and other “inconvenient” refugees risks putting us in the global doghouse. My Bill, if enacted, will instead put India at the forefront of asylum management in the world. It will finally recognise India’s long-standing and continuing commitment to humanitarian and democratic values while dealing with refugees.
It troubles me that a country with proud traditions and noble practices remains legally neither committed nor obliged to do anything for refugees, even if we behave humanely in practice. I think it is high time the Government reviewed its long-standing reluctance to sign up legally to what we have already been doing morally. International law involves no obligations that we have not already undertaken voluntarily; to refuse to enact a refugee law that matches the highest standards of the international conventions, out of an anxiety not to be “bound” to the wishes of the international community, is unworthy of a major country like India. After all, we are increasingly moving from being a subject of the international system, a rule-taker as it were, to a rule-maker within it.
Our judiciary has already shown the way forward on this: in 1996, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the state has to protect all human beings living in India, irrespective of nationality, since they enjoy the rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution to all, not just Indian citizens. Based on this premise, the Supreme Court stopped the forcible eviction of Chakma refugees who had entered Arunachal Pradesh in 1995, in the landmark NHRC vs State of Arunachal Pradesh case. The Court held that an application for asylum must be properly processed and till a decision is made whether to grant or refuse asylum, the state cannot forcibly evict an asylum seeker. At the same time, with different judges, come different approaches — as we have seen in the Rohingya case. The enactment and enumeration of refugee rights will reduce our dependence on judge-centric approaches — or even worse, the whims of Home Ministry bureaucrats, police officers and politicians.
We should build on the Supreme Court’s vision and pass my Bill, or something very like it. We should be among the most admired nations in the world, not one that, on refugee issues, has much to be ashamed of now. The problems of refugees worldwide are problems that demand global solidarity and international cooperation. India, as a pillar of the world community, as a significant pole in the emerging multipolar world, must play its own part, on its own soil as well as on the global stage, in this noble task. In so doing, we would uphold our own finest traditions and the highest standards of our democracy, as well as demonstrate once again that we are what we have long claimed to be: a good international citizen in an ever-closer knit and globalising world. This is a worthwhile aspiration for all of us who care about what India stands for, at home and in the world. If Mr. Modi’s government wants to be a Vishwaguru, it should behave like one.
Legal Framework for Refugees in India
- Article 51 of the Indian constitution: This provision states that the state shall endeavour to foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organized people with one another.
- As per the Citizenship Act of 1955, an illegal immigrant can be of two types.
- Foreign national enters into India with valid travel documents but stays beyond their validity, or
- Foreign national entered India without any valid travel documents.
- As per, the Foreigners Act, 1946, the central government have the right to deport any foreign national.
- Apart from that, India is also not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention and the 1967 UN refugee Protocol.
- Further, India does not have any national law on refugees.
- While law and order is a State subject, international relations and international borders are under the Union government. This has resulted in, both the Centre and the State government agencies, dealing with the refugee problem in India.
- In 2011, the Union government circulated a Standard Operating Procedure to deal with foreign nationals who claim to be refugees.
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 aims to provide citizenship to those who sheltered in India for religious persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries. But the Act only covers the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- So, India at present, does not have any separate law to govern refugees. The refugee matters at present dealt with on a case by case basis.
India’s Refugee Policy
- India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow.
- The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen.
- Further, the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh, and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
- Moreover, India is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the key legal documents pertaining to refugee protection.
- In spite of not being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, India has had a stellar record on the issue of refugee protection. India has a moral tradition for assimilating foreign people and culture.
- Further, the constitution of India also respects the life, liberty, and dignity of human beings.
- The Supreme Court in the National Human Rights Commission vs. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996) held that “while all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others.”
India’s Argument for Not Signing the 1951 Refugee Convention
- The definition of refugees in the 1951 convention only pertains to the violation of civil and political rights, but not economic rights, of individuals.
- For instance, a person, under the definition of the convention, could be considered if he/she is deprived of political rights, but not if he/she is deprived of economic rights.
- If the violation of economic rights were to be included in the definition of a refugee, it would clearly pose a major burden on the developed world.
- On the other hand, this argument, if used in the South Asian context, could be a problematic proposition for India too.
2. Russia welcomes India’s stand on eastern Ukraine situation
Issue can be resolved only through diplomatic dialogue, says India at UNSC
The Russian Embassy here on Friday welcomed “India’s balanced, principled and independent approach” in response to India’s statement at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) welcoming the implementation of the Minsk agreements which, it said, provided a basis for a “negotiated and peaceful settlement of the situation in eastern Ukraine.” Any steps that ‘‘increase tension may best be avoided by all sides”, it stated.
Ukraine has accused Russia of ceasefire violations in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and using weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements. It stated that their armed forces “strictly adhere to the Minsk agreements and norms of international humanitarian law”.
Speaking at the UNSC on the implementation of the Minsk agreements on Ukraine, Permanent Representative of India to the UN T.S. Tirumurti, said, “The well-being of Indian nationals is of priority to us.” Welcoming the efforts under way for the implementation of the “Minsk agreements”, including through the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) and under the Normandy format, he urged all parties to continue to engage through all possible diplomatic channels and keep working towards the full implementation of the agreements.
“Any steps that increase tension may best be avoided by all sides in the larger interest of securing international peace and security. Quiet and constructive diplomacy is the need of the hour,” he stated. “This issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue.”
Defensive actions: Kiev
Blaming Russia for the situation in the “temporarily occupied territories”, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukraine armed forces Lt. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny said, “The armed forces of Ukraine strictly adhere to the Minsk agreements and norms of international humanitarian law, do not plan any offensive operations or shelling of civilians. Our actions are purely defensive.”
3. I&B Ministry warns officials on data security
‘Don’t share secret documents over the Internet’
The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry has prohibited the sharing of top secret or secret documents by its officials over Internet. They have also been told not to use digital assistant devices such as Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s HomePod and Google Home in the office and turn off digital assistants, including Alexa and Siri, in their smartphones or watches. The officials are required to deposit their smart phones outside the meeting room during discussions on classified issues, said the order that has been issued in view of the finding that a large number of government officials use private messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram for communication of classified information. The Ministry said such a practice violated the Departmental Security instructions and the National Information Security Policy Guidelines.
Accordingly, the Ministry has directed that top secret and secret documents be shared only in a closed network with the leased line connectivity where the Scientific Analysis Group (SAG) grade encryption mechanism is deployed. The SAG functions under the Defence Research & Development Organisation.
The order said that confidential and restricted information could be shared on Internet via networks having a commercial Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit mechanism. The Ministry has recommended the use of government email facility or government instant messaging platforms such as the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing’s Samvad and the National Informatics Centre’s Sandesh for communicating such information.
The Ministry cautioned that the classification of top secret or secret information should not be downgraded to “confidential” or “restricted” for the purpose of sharing it over Internet.
4. Hydrogen policy calls for more incentives: experts
Production target of 5 mn tonne set
The ‘Green Hydrogen’ policy announced by the government on Thursday incentivises producers of this form of power but only partially, say experts.
A notification by the Power Ministry on Thursday says that manufacturers of green hydrogen or ammonia may purchase renewable power from the power exchange or set up renewable energy capacity themselves or through any other developer anywhere. Inter-State transmission charges will be waived for 25 years and they can also bank unconsumed renewable power, up to 30 days, with distribution company.
Hydrogen or ammonia is produced mostly by steam reformation with natural gas and sometimes by electrolysis, which is splitting water with electricity yielding hydrogen and oxygen. The power to execute both of these methods is sourced from hydrocarbons or natural gas. Green hydrogen results when the electricity is produced from a non-fossil fuel source such as solar or wind energy but this is currently uneconomical and the new policy aims to make this more viable.
The Centre has set itself a target of setting up a 5 million tonnes (mt) green hydrogen production by 2030. Because hydrogen only emits water as a residue when burnt, it is pitched as a potential substitute for fossil fuel.
The manufacturers of such hydrogen and the renewable energy plant would also be given connectivity to the grid on priority basis and they would also be allowed to set up bunkers near ports for storing this green ammonia for export / use by shipping.
Close to 50-70% of the cost of green hydrogen results from input power costs of renewable energy, a substantial share being from open access charges. “The waiving off of central open access charges is a good first step in enabling lower cost distributed production of green hydrogen. However, States have their own open access charges ranging from 0.27 to 3.8 ₹ per unit (kWh), also depending on whether it is solar or wind. Therefore, a concerted effort is required to remove the disparity in these charges to avoid a distorted green hydrogen market,” said Hemant Mallya, Senior Programme Lead, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).
To make 5 million tonnes of hydrogen a large amount of land, large infrastructure and money would be necessary to meet that target. “The reality is solar alone cannot be a sole green hydrogen producer as there are certain inherent limitations in power balancing calculations” said Nandan Kundetkar, Chief Science Officer and CEO of Femto Green Hydrogen Limited.
What is green hydrogen?
Green hydrogen is hydrogen gas produced through electrolysis of water — an energy intensive process for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen— using renewable power to achieve this.
How is the policy set to boost domestic production of green hydrogen production?
The new policy offers 25 years of free power transmission for any new renewable energy plants set up to supply power for green hydrogen production before July 2025. This means that a green hydrogen producer will be able to set up a solar power plant in Rajasthan to supply renewable energy to a green hydrogen plant in Assam and would not be required to pay any inter-state transmission charges. The move is likely going to make it more economical for key users of hydrogen and ammonia such as the oil refining, fertiliser and steel sectors to produce green hydrogen for their own use. These sectors currently use grey hydrogen or grey ammonia produced using natural gas or naphtha.
What are the incentives?
The government is set to provide a single portal for all clearances required for setting up green hydrogen production as well as a facility for producers to bank any surplus renewable energy generated with discoms for upto 30 days and use it as required.
“The requirement of time bound clearances for these projects would spur investment while grid connectivity on priority will ease operational processes,” said Vikram Kirlosar, chairman, CII Taskforce on Green Hydrogen and vice chairman of Toyota Kirloskar.
The power ministry has also said that energy plants set up to produce green hydrogen/ammonia would be given connectivity to the grid on a priority basis.
Power distribution companies may also procure renewable energy to supply green hydrogen producers but will be required to do so at a concessional rate which will only include the cost of procurement, wheeling charges and a small margin as determined by the state commission, under the new policy. Such procurement would also count towards a state’s Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) under which it is required to procure a certain proportion of its requirements from renewable energy sources.
What are the facilities to boost export of green hydrogen and ammonia?
Under the policy port authorities will also provide land at applicable charges to green hydrogen and green ammonia producers to set up bunkers near ports for storage prior to export. Power minster RK Singh has previously noted that Germany and Japan could be key markets for green hydrogen produced in India.
The government is set to come out with mandates requiring that the oil refining, fertiliser and steel sectors procure green hydrogen and green ammonia for a certain proportion of their requirements. Singh has previously noted that the mandate for the refining sector could start at 15-20 per cent of the sectors total requirement.
5. New gecko from NE gets Army tag
Two more species of the lizard named after the places of their occurrence
A team of herpetologists have recorded a new species of bent-toed gecko from a wooded part of the Umroi Military Station in Meghalaya. Its scientific name is Crytodactylus exercitus and English name is Indian Army’s bent-toed gecko. Exercitus in Latin means army.
“The name was given to honour the Army for its services to the country. The military station where the bent-toed gecko was discovered was also a factor behind its name,” Jayaditya Purkayastha of green NGO Help Earth and one of the authors of a study on the gecko told The Hindu on Friday.
The finding of the study was published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Taxonomy. The paper recorded another new bent-toed gecko, the Cyrtodactylus siahaensis named after Mizoram’s Siaha district where it was found.
These lizard specialists had in a separate study recorded the Cyrtodactylus lungleiensis, a new species of bent-toed gecko named after Mizoram’s Lunglei town.
Mr. Purkayastha said a team of researchers has been scanning the urban, rural and jungle areas across the northeast to uncover the herpetofaunal diversity of the region. India is now home to 40 species of the bent-toed gecko with the northeast accounting for 16 of them.