If Assam has to prosper, then we must protect our natural resources from the infiltrators and simultaneously send a message to the business community that there is peace in the state
The Bharatiya Janata Party promised to implement nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) if voted back to power. NRC issue became a matter of debate in Assam and Bengal and despite apprehensions that it may cost BJP in the elections, party chief Amit Shah decided to stick to the stand. Infiltration in Assam and Bengal is an old issue, which has been used time and again by various political parties to suit their agenda, but sadly nothing tangible was done to deport the infiltrators to their home country. Bangladeshi infiltration is a fact, which has been accepted by all the political parties and all of them vowed to tackle this problem but vote bank politics came in between and electoral interest surpassed the national interest.
People lined up outside an NRC verfication counter in Assam
Infiltration has changed the demography of Assam and West Bengal and it has caused various adverse effects. Socio-political impacts of infiltration and security concerns caused by illegal immigrants have always dominated the discussion on this topic. Economic aspects of this silent invasion have gone unnoticed.
It is a basic principle that citizens of any country have right over the resources of that country. Migrants from neighbouring country have occupied the land which has put tremendous pressure on cultivable land and reduced the land holdings of the native population. Land is a key economic resource which can’t be created or increased. As per the statement given by Chief Minister of Assam, approximately seven per cent (429,697 hectares) of cultivable land was destroyed by River Brahmaputra and its tributaries between years 1951 to 2000. At one hand a large part of cultivable land is affected by natural causes (like floods etc) and on the other hand, illegal migrants occupy the land which naturally belongs to the native people and therefore local people are facing a double whammy.
Most of the Bangladeshi migrants form manual workforce like house construction workers, painters, rickshaw pullers, gardeners etc and their females work as maids. India is a highly populated country and we don’t need workforce for doing such kind of unskilled work. We are a populous country and jobs requiring technical knowledge can’t be provided to a large number of people. Opportunities which legitimately belong to locals are snatched away by migrants.
These illegal migrants have a very strong social network and they have access to government offices also. Many of them have secured Indian citizenship by procuring illegal documents and getting the benefit of various social welfare schemes like MNREGA, Ayushman Bharat, etc. They are taking the benefits of those schemes which are meant for Indian citizens and this costs to the government exchequer. The financial burden of our government increases in providing basic facilities to the intruders and a developing nation like India can’t afford to spend its money on illegal occupants at the cost of its own citizen. Migrants have a higher birth rate and as a result their population is increasing exponentially which is aggravating the problem.
A large number of migrant workforce is engaged in small business. Usually, they are unregistered and don’t pay any tax. The money which could have come to exchequer is foregone. Besides this, the migrant economy run through informal channels and adds to the black market economy. These people earn money in India and send it to Bangladesh via illegal means. The money which could have been part of the economic cycle in India is remitted outside India via illegal means.
At times we come across the argument that migration increases per-capita GDP of host economies by raising labour productivity. Research by IMF, published in 2016, is quoted in support of this argument. In our case, we must highlight that this theory is not applicable universally and it holds good in geographies like Europe where the population is ageing. In our case, we are a country with a large workforce and we need to provide employment to our youth. A populous country like India doesn’t need unskilled labour from other countries. Besides this, it is generally accepted trend worldwide to welcome foreigners with specialised skills so that they can contribute to the growth story of the host country.
Agitation against illegal migrants started in 1979 by AASU. Assam’s per capita GDP was above the national average till 1979 and it started to decline after that (see the table). First, it was agitation and later on insurgency discouraged the business community and impacted the economic growth of Assam. In other words, the unrest which was caused by illegal migrants also had economic consequences.
This silent invasion has impacted Assam’s economy in many ways. Encroachment of land, snatching the manual work, running petty shops, etc. are direct impact which is visible but there is a much bigger indirect impact in the form of unrest and its consequences which has driven away industries from this state. If Assam has to prosper then we must protect our natural resources from these infiltrators and simultaneously send a message to the business community that there is peace in the state. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has supported the government’s effort in the identification process and the Court has set July 31, 2019 as the date for releasing final NRC for Assam. We can also expect the final passage of Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Parliament to ensure that those who crossed the border due to religious persecution get relief in the process of identification and deportation. It is high time to implement the promises made to Assamese people when the Assam Accord was signed in 1985.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant and Anti Money-Laundering Specialist)