The Telegraph – How a government and bureaucracy betrayed its people

No section of Assam’s population has been left unaffected by the overpowering, State-created tragedy of the NRC

Teesta Setalvad
Guwahati – Assam – India, 22 July 2019. So far, at least in ‘mainland’ India, we have been relatively insulated from the tortures and traumas caused by public authorities demanding proof of whether or not we are Indian. In the far corners of Assam, however, turmoil and anguish reign. Some of our most economically weak people have been ground down to desperation as a peculiarly callous and even motivated bureaucracy rules over their fate.

According to a meticulous list compiled by Citizens for Justice and Peace in Assam, there have been 58 citizenship related deaths as of July 18, 2019. Almost all of them hail from working class agrarian or urban backgrounds. Of these 28 are Hindus, 27 Muslims, one Boro, one Gorkha and one is a member of the Tea Tribes.

The numbers of those dead have so far not touched us in the rest of India. However, when 40 lakh plus of Indians were excluded from the provisional National Register of Citizens last July, a sense of the magnitude began to percolate through.

The NRC, a process both complex to understand and unique to Assam, was a consensual process arrived at after the tumultuous years that preceded the Assam Accord, when aggression, strife and violence marred a politics that was driven by real or imagined fears of the outsider.

The discourse has been twisted cleverly to now mean ‘foreigner’ and ‘infiltrator’. So it is these peculiar and seemingly parochial preconditions that have to be factored in to understand how and why a wide consensus developed around the process of a ‘free and fair’ NRC. Terms like ‘genuine Indian citizens’ have now emerged to form an integral part of the wider humanitarian discourse within the state.

Legally, the NRC in Assam is today being finalized under the Citizenship Act, 1955, which applies to all Indians (with a special amendment that relates to Assam) and under the special provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2003.

The ‘Modalities of NRC’ — under which this process has to be undertaken — are thorough. These Modalities (2003 onwards) were prepared on the basis of a common consensus arrived at with all stakeholders in the state. These included the supporters of the Assam Movement, various religious and linguistic minority organizations, and all the political parties of Assam. It was truly a hard earned consensus.

Thereafter, these Modalities were approved by a cabinet sub-committee of the government of Assam and then sent to the NRC authority. After the approval from the NRC authority, these were sent to the registrar general of India under the department of home, government of India.

Understanding these Modalities is to judge whether today’s process is fair. After elaborate discussions, the Modalities approved as many as 15 kinds of documents as legacy documents and another 10 sorts of documents known as ‘linkage documents’, which could and must be used during evaluating the applications of genuine Indian citizens for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC.

All these documents were approved by the RGI and subsequently by the Supreme Court of India. It was on the basis of any or all of these documents that the process was to be finalized.

However, perversions and manipulations have dogged the process of late. After 2016, the acceptability of some of the documents which were initially approved in the Modalities (for finalization of the NRC-Assam) were ‘diminished’, owing to the damaging intentions of various authorities.

When these were brought to the attention of the court, some of these were rectified. However, at the ground level, in spite of this disapproval by the court that is monitoring this mammoth process, the NRC authority continues with its questionable task of diminishing the acceptability of some of the ‘Legacy’ and ‘Linkage’ documents.

The motive appears to be not just to harass the common citizen but to perform to a ‘target’ set by political bosses.

To elaborate, the NRC authority has ‘diminished’ the acceptability of the citizenship certificate, migration certificate, refugee inmate certificate. Besides, all government documents including the voters list issued from Bengal and Tripura have been rejected.

All this has happened during the ongoing process of the finalization of the NRC. All birth certificates issued by the Nagaland government authority have been rejected without the minimum steps or any initiative to prove the documents’ authenticity being taken.

Further, within the NRC Modalities, there was a strong provision — well thought out — whereby an arrangement was put in place for a district magistrate investigation team to intervene. This provision ensured and assured any Indian citizen of a forum he or she could approach on the question. If, for instance, a genuine Indian citizen failed to submit proper documents, these could be investigated independently by the DMIT.

The team was empowered to meet local people, and after proper investigation, had the power to approve the inclusion of a name of an orphan, destitute or a person having no documents, especially the ‘linkage’ documents. This entire provision has been ignored, dropped from the on-going process.

Finally, there was a last, strong, fall-back provision, also within the Modalities, that laid down the DNA test as an ultimate arbiter for the finalization of a claim for the inclusion of a name while updating the NRC (when all else failed).

The provision was also struck down by the office of the RGI unilaterally. The highest court in the land has not been kept fully apprised of these deletions.

There is more. During the course of this finalization process, large numbers of applications have been rejected because of minor discrepancies in the names, titles, age differences in the legacy documents and the user of such legacy documents.

This in spite of the fact that ‘Modalities of NRC’ state otherwise: that minor discrepancies of the names, ages, titles will not affect the legitimate demand for inclusion of a name in the updated NRC. However, on the ground, at the 1,200 plus Nagrik Seva Kendras, this specific assurance is being given the go-by, causing injustice and mass exclusions.

There is no section of the population in Assam that has been left unaffected by this overpowering, State-created tragedy. Bengali-speaking Hindus, Muslims, the Gorkhas, Hindi-speaking people of north and west India have all been caught up in this, equally.

There is no way to describe what this unfolding trauma has meant, for women and men to attend hearings scheduled in places far away from home, spending significant amounts of money filling in applications. Worse, they are summoned to appear not once, but repeatedly, along with ‘legacy persons’.

This means that, in some cases, many people have even had to attend hearings as many as seven to 14 times along with their entire troupe of family tree members. This means a batch of 40-80 persons from an extended family having to travel up to hundreds of kilometres from their place of residence.

Not too far back, a professor from a prominent university of Delhi had to rush three times from Delhi to Lakhimpur in Upper Assam, which is about 3,000 kilometres, along with all his family members .

What is the legal recourse for persons unfairly or otherwise left out of the final NRC? The courts? An executive order of the ministry of home affairs (May 2019), now under challenge in the court, tries to diminish due process and an Indian citizen’s right to citizenship by compelling those excluded from the NRC to approach Foreigners Tribunals.

What are these bodies? Created specially in Assam under the pre-Independence Act of 1946, they are non-transparent bodies, about 100 in number. Fair adjudication of citizenship under the 1955 Citizenship Act needs to be undertaken under the Citizenship Tribunals constituted under that law. Confusions abound as injustice persists.

With inputs from Nandu Ghosh, Bijni and Zamser Ali.

Teesta Setalvad is secretary of Citizens for Justice and Peace – Fake Encounter: Khaira holds Badals and Captain equally responsible for pardoning the killer cops

Sikh24 Editors

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 21 July 2019. Addressing a press conference in Chandigarh on July 20, the Punjab Ekta Party’s president and Bholath MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira accused that the Badals and Captain Amarinder Singh were equally guilty of facilitating pardon to four cops who had killed Sikh youth Harjit Singh in a fake encounter in 1993.

Bapu Mohinder Singh and Bibi Harjit Kaur, the father and sister of victim Sikh youths, were also accompanying Sukhpal Khaira on this occasion.

Revealing the information obtained through RTI, Khaira revealed that the kin of killer cops had deposited apology petition to the Punjab Governor on November 2, 2016. “The killer cops had just served four and half years in the jail out of the life term granted to them by the CBI court but still the Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh recommended their release on May 21 this year,” he added.

It may be recalled here that the Police cops had killed an Amritdhari Sikh youth named Harjit Singh of village Saharan Majra (Ludhiana) in 1993. All these Police cops were held guilty and sentenced to life by the Special CBI Court of Patiala on 01-12-2014.

The Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore had pardoned four police cops namely Rajiv Kumar Singh (SP), Brij Lal Verma (Inspector) and Onkar Singh (Constable) and Harinder Singh (Inspector) on June 11 this year.

Fake Encounter: Khaira holds Badals and Captain equally responsible for pardoning the killer cops

Wondelgem: Van Beverenplein – Industrieweg

Wondelgem – Evergem
10 July 2019

Van Beverenplein – Tram 1 to Flanders Expo

Francisco Ferrerlaan – Tram 1 to Flanders Expo

Francisco Ferrerlaan – Tram 1 to Wondelgem

Industrieweg Terminus of trams to Wondelgem

Trams to Evergem turn left here
Loop for Wondelgem trams


More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

The Asian Age – India needs to rework its tactics on Pakistan, Jammu & Kashmir

Pakistan had earlier linked its airspace reopening to India removing its Air Force fighters from forward deployment.

K C Singh

Op/Ed, 23 July 2019. Before heading to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump on July 22, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan opened up his country’s airspace to international flights, after months of closure, and rearrested Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind behind terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

President Trump promptly tweeted his happiness over the latter as that group has American blood on its hands, having undertaken the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai over a decade ago. Pakistan had earlier linked its airspace reopening to India removing its Air Force fighters from forward deployment.

New Delhi had rejected that demand. Pakistan’s volte face may have been prompted by a desire to show the US its reasonableness in dealing with India. The same may be behind Pakistan’s accommodative approach to the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor as it dropped from its delegation controversial pro-Khalistan leader Gopal Singh Chawla.

Indian sensitivity on this issue was manifest when an expatriate organisation, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), pushing the Referendum 2020 over Khalistan, was banned.

If all this heralded a thawing of India-Pakistan relations, an old issue resurfaced to negate it.

On July 18, Pakistan had its knuckles rapped by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Indian case filed over denial of consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer, who was detained, tried and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged espionage and terrorist activities.

Rejecting the Pakistani arguments about lack of jurisdiction, the court held Pakistan in breach of its commitments under the Vienna Consular Convention of 1963. While Pakistan claimed victory as the court did not ask for the release and repatriation of Jadhav, the court sought a review of the judgment, immediate consular access for India and Jadhav being informed of his rights accordingly.

Pakistan agreed to grant the access, but many other issues linger. First, will Indian high commission officials be in physical proximity of the detainee and relatively free to converse without close monitoring?

It is unlikely that the Pakistan Army will allow this, and may in fact repeat the theatre enacted when Jadhav’s mother and wife sat across a glass partition and conversed over the intercom and under intrusive oversight of security officials.

Second, Pakistan has agreed to review the judgment as per their own prescribed procedures, which may entail its submission to the Chief of Army Staff or the President.

Pakistan is unlikely to concede that due to the serious procedural flaw of denying the accused access to his country’s diplomatic mission and thus provision of proper legal assistance, the entire trial was vitiated. The military court had apparently relied on a “confession” obtained by coercive means and dubious circumstantial evidence.

Pakistan’s next steps in the Jadhav affair would thus condition the course of India-Pakistan relations. On the other hand, Pakistan will also expect that India should respond to positive steps taken by it, instead of sticking to the standard Indian line that Pakistani action against jihadi groups is tactical and reversible.

Imran Khan’s US visit assumes importance in this regard as Pakistan would attempt to re-balance relations with Washington, which have during the Trump presidency slipped into open distrust. India has counted on this dissonance to pillory and pressure Pakistan.

The White House statement on the eve of visit reads that the bilateral meeting is to “discuss a range of issues, including counter-terrorism, defence, energy, trade, with the goal of creating the conditions for a peaceful South Asia and an enduring partnership”.

Clearly, the Afghan endgame, in which Pakistan has now been co-opted by China, Russia and the US to help, has altered US perceptions on Pakistan considerably.

India on the other hand has been left on the sidelines of the Afghan game as President Trump wants to withdraw US troops after a face-saving peace pact with the American presidential election approaching in 2020.

Meanwhile, India and the US are wrestling with trade issues that have episodically riled President Trump enough to fire angry tweets.

Thus, a bull-headed Pakistani policy may be losing its value as the world has other distractions and likely diminishing empathy for Indian complaints over Pakistani duplicity and sponsorship of terror. The seizure by Iran of a British oil tanker, in retaliation for an Iranian oil tanker carrying oil to Syria being seized by the British near Gibraltar, ups the ante in the Gulf.

Britain has already warned its tankers from transiting the Straits of Hormuz. Operation Sentinel to create a multi-national escort force is still not off and running. Iran has dropped hints it may renegotiate the nuclear deal, but it would not discuss any rollback of its influence or even presence in West Asia.

On July 24, British prime minister Theresa May will resign, and the process begin to install her successor, most likely to be Boris Johnson. On the same day Robert Mueller, the former FBI head who investigated the Russian collusion charges against the Trump electoral machine, will depose before the US Congress.

Mr Mueller has said he would stick to explaining his report and not launch a witch-hunt against the incumbent US President, but it would distract an already election-oriented Mr Trump. Thus, a visible bonhomie between Mr Trump and Mr Khan can result in a more confident Pakistan willing to test the post-Balakot retaliatory doctrine of India.

Therefore, India would have to tailor its Pakistan policy accordingly. During Track II interactions with Pakistanis, some uncertainty is visible over the new Indian doctrine of pre-emptive or retaliatory military action if India is attacked by Pakistan-based terror groups known to be sponsored by the Pakistani military.

But Pakistan is emerging from its isolation and economic mess. If the US opens the military assistance tap and restarts financial aid under the garb of compensation for counter-terrorism operations, then Pakistan may draw the wrong conclusion.

It will continue to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan by helping instal a Taliban dispensation in Kabul and await Pakistan getting off the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, which its ally China now chairs.

After that, it will stoke as 2020 approaches both the “Khalistan” issue and the ire in the Kashmir Valley. A purely security-oriented approach to the Jammu and Kashmir problem will backfire eventually, much as normality may appear possible today as Pakistan has shut off the infiltration. The lesson for India is that the geo-strategic environment is not static. Nor can be one’s tactics to deal with it.

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry

Dawn – Derailed again

Dr Noman Ahmed

Op/Ed, 23 July 2019. Many tragic train accidents have occurred in the country. This month, reportedly over 20 people were killed and several injured when Akbar Express collided with a stationary freight train in Sadiqabad. Last month, a passenger train rammed into a freight train near Makli Shah station, killing three people.

Human error and related factors are cited as common reasons. The follow-ups to such tragedies include the usual inquiries and investigations, and a few administrative adjustments.

News reports have described the severe financial constraints of Pakistan Railways (PR). With diminishing ability to procure even operating fuel loads, the situation is serious. Loss of commuter trust due to operational negligence and accidents is just one example.

Accidents are not new. In 2005, three trains collided near Sarhad Railway Station, with fatalities in the hundreds. In January 2006, six rail coaches of the Rawalpindi-bound Lahore Express fell into a ravine killing four people and injuring dozens.

Clearly, PR, once an efficient and economical mode of transportation, is collapsing. The current railway minister took charge by criticising the previous incumbent. The only changes he introduced are a few new passenger trains. How will the country be able to fulfil its CPEC commitments through railroad links ?

The department has seen better days. North Western Railways, which became Pakistan Western Railways after Independence, was a profitable enterprise. Spread over 7,600 kilometres, the network effectively connected major cities, towns and regions of the then West Pakistan.

The management, organisation and control of the department were along professional lines. Most of the senior officers and engineers had obtained their training and experience under the British. Civil engineering, signals, traffic and commercial cadres, mechanical and electrical engineers, accounts and finance were key units.

Passenger and goods/ freight movement are the two essential ingredients of railway services. Passenger service is subsidised by the surplus revenue earned through goods/ freight transportation.

PR had to operate a sizable number of goods trains to maintain a financial balance. Over 40 goods trains used to operate in Karachi from the 1960s till the 1980s. Towards the end of the 1960s, the government shifted the emphasis to road transportation.

This approach received greater focus during the Zia regime. The budget deficit began to rise. According to an ex-railways officer, the number of goods/ freight trains was reduced by half. For medium and long distances, goods transportation by railways is found to be at least 10 times cheaper than via roads/ highways.

Consequently, it consumes less diesel, leading to fewer fuel import requirements. Transportation insurance, safety records and handling were a few factors that made the railways a logical choice.

However this logic was brushed aside as the government continued to employ other options for land transportation of goods. Going by estimates, governments have spent $1 billion in excess by choosing the road option over PR.

This is not surprising when we consider that ministers launched new trains without proper feasibility studies. PR is currently burdened with a budget deficit of over Rs 24bn.

Modern service standards demand basic facilities including stations. Most of the stations are in a dilapidated state. Some essential facilities are nonexistent, including amenities for comfort and safety.

During inspections, the concerned station masters and other staff point out the shortcomings but remedies are slow if any. Barring a few major stations, the building facilities are also rundown.

Budgetary constraints do not allow PR to undertake any mass-scale facilities/ hardware revitalisation programme. Unfortunately, only after accidents are the deficiencies debated, and then forgotten.

PR as a land transportation option is climate friendly and cost-effective for commuters and operators. But massive reforms are needed to restore its performance and image.

The foremost issue pertains to the lack of political will for extending reforms. Cosmetic renderings hardly yield results. Meanwhile, the current regime appears to be inclined to auction railway lands. According to records, the department owns more than 166,000 acres of land in the entire country.

By any standards, this is one of the most precious assets which must be properly managed. These lands had been reserved for operational needs of the system at various locations. This matter needs a public debate and a lobbying response by civil society to revive lost government interest in this vital department.

A strategic approach to invite the corporate sector in management tasks must be initiated. The experiment of running trains with private investment has proven successful so far.

The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.