One year later, New Delhi continues to drag its heels on controversial citizenship law

One year later, New Delhi continues to drag its heels on controversial citizenship law
Activists of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) hold placards and play traditional instruments during a protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Guwahati on December 12, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 17 December 2020

One year later, New Delhi continues to drag its heels on controversial citizenship law

One year later, New Delhi continues to drag its heels on controversial citizenship law
  • Government spokesman says CAA will be implemented ‘sooner or later’ and people of Assam are in favor of it but experts disagree

NEW DELHI: Dec. 11 marked the first anniversary of the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India.

However, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which introduced the law with much fanfare, has failed to implement the legislation. Some experts suggest this is a result of “domestic and international political pressure.”

“The BJP is trying to find a way out of the contradictions it finds itself in after (introducing) the CAA,” said Snigdhendhu Bhattacharya, a journalist in Kolkata and author of “Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment.”

“The party finds great resistance to the CAA in the northeastern state of Assam but is amenable to implementing it in Bengal, where it sees a great electoral dividend in the coming regional elections in April. The party is not able to balance the interests of Assam and Bengal.”

Under the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Christian minorities who moved to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan before Dec. 31, 2014 are eligible to become citizens. Muslims are excluded.

The legislation is part of the government’s proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) initiative, an exercise it says is designed to identify “genuine citizens” of India. If any non-Muslims are left out of the NRC, they will not be declared stateless because they would be protected by the CAA — a privilege denied to Muslims.

When asked by Arab News on Wednesday about the failure to implement the CAA a year after its introduction, BJP national spokesman Sudesh Verma refused to comment.

Rupam Goswami, the BJP’s spokesman in Assam, said it would be implemented “sooner or later.”

He said: “Our national president has said that the government will frame the rule,” and added that “people in Assam are in favor of CAA and we will do well in the upcoming elections.”

Some disagree with this assessment, however, and say the legislation is fundamentally flawed.

“The way the CAA has been designed is based on a flawed notion of citizenship,” said Prasenjit Bose of the Joint Forum Against the NRC/CAA.

“The flaw is that you are not demarcating who are refugees and who are so-called infiltrators. The BJP brought the concept of illegal migrants. The ruling party, through its flawed policy, has converted all refugees into illegal migrants.”

Demonstrations took place across India in December last year as Muslims protested against the introduction of the act. In New Delhi, Muslims and other groups participated in a three-month strike in protest against the law. In response the BJP organized counterprotests that culminated in clashes and violence in the city in February, during which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. A number of students, activists and Muslim political workers were detained on draconian terror charges. Many are still behind bars.

The BJP developed the idea for the CAA after Assam shared its citizenship list in September 2019. A majority of the 1.9 million people left off of the NRC were Bengali Hindus, who form part of the party’s core vote. Protests erupted across the state when the CAA came into effect, however, with ethnic Assamese demanding it be scrapped.

“The CAA is an unconstitutional act and it has been imposed by the central government forcefully,” said Lurinjyoti Gogoi, former general secretary of the All Assam Students Union and leader of the newly founded Asom Jatiya Parishad party.

“We are very clear that we cannot accept a load of illegal foreigners (who arrived) after March 25, 1971. A foreigner is a foreigner be it Hindu or Muslim.”

An anti-foreigner movement in the early 1980s led to the Assam Accord of 1985, as part of which the Indian government agreed to a cut-off date of March 25, 1971 for citizenship. Anyone who entered India after that would be considered a foreigner.

“We will intensify the anti-CAA agitation further,” Gogoi added.

Assam is due go to the polls in February but the rules for the CAA have not yet been framed. Kalyan Baruah, a senior journalist at the Assam Tribune, said the government appears to have taken “a step back” from the legislation, given the delay in implementing it.

“Because of the CAA, the BJP stands to lose politically,” he said. “The party has incurred the wrath of the people by enacting it.”

Illegal migration is also a prominent issue in the Bengal region of eastern India, which is due to go to the polls in April. The BJP is banking on the support of the Hindu Matua community there, which migrated to India in large numbers during the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971. During the most recent general election, the party promised to grant citizenship rights to the Matuas. However, the delay in implementing the CAA is “causing anxiety in the community.”

Bose said: “The problem is technical. The Matua community has been enjoying all the benefits of Indian citizenship so far … if they accept citizenship under the CAA, they will have to declare themselves as illegal refugees.

“The community is now demanding unconditional citizenship; that is, citizenship without any documents. So the CAA is becoming a farce.

“The BJP is facing a dilemma. If it goes ahead with the CAA, it would be a bluff. If the rules are set according to the interests of the Matua community, it will have electoral ramifications.”

Some political experts say international pressure on the government might be another reason for the delay in implementing the act.

“There could be some international concerns in the minds of the government,” said Bhattacharya. “I think New Delhi is sensitive about the repercussions in its relationship with Bangladesh.

“The Indian government might also be mindful about the change in regime in the US.”

Suhas Chakma, director of human-rights organization the Rights and Risks Analysis Group, agreed and added: “India has changed its policies on many (things) with tacit support from (US President Donald) Trump’s regime (but) the new Democratic regime in Washington is not going to be lenient with the Modi regime.”

The publication of the 2020 South Asia State of Minorities Report coincided with the first anniversary of the CAA. It stated that India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities” since the BJP introduced its amendments to the Citizenship Act last year.

It added that the since it assumed power in 2014, the party has “unveiled a new and now a frontal attack on religious minorities and other vulnerable groups. This has had a chilling effect on civic space for Muslims and Muslim community-based organizations and activists, specifically.”


Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed
Updated 23 sec ago

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed
  • India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero

RAMESWARAM, India: Draped in a colorful saree and shirt, Lakshmi Murgesan dives into the azure waters off India’s southern coast to collect seaweed, which is being hailed by scientists as a miracle crop that absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees.
India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero.
But authorities are looking into how seaweed farming could help reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, reverse ocean acidification and improve the marine environment, as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for marginalized coastal communities.
“I am doing this for my children... It requires a lot of hard work, but I am able to earn good profits from about four months of work,” said Murgesan, who makes 20,000 rupees ($265) each month farming the fibrous macroalgae.
“I would not have been able to educate my children but after doing this, I could send my children to college,” she added, smiling as she emerged from the waters in Rameswaram, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
M. Ganesan, a government marine scientist, said seaweed provides a possible way forward as coastal habitats and wetlands absorb five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
“It is a miracle crop in many ways, it is eco-friendly, it doesn’t use land or fresh water. It absorbs carbon dioxide dissolved in water during photosyntheses and oxygenates the entire marine ecosystem,” Ganesan told AFP.
India, which has an 8,000-kilometer (5,000-mile) coastline, is now aiming to boost production from the current 30,000 tons to more than one million tons each year by 2025.
Globally, seaweed production was worth around $12 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2025, with China and Indonesia having 80 percent of the market share.

Murgesan is part of a team of women who work together to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts, before harvesting and drying them.
The tropical waters of Tamil Nadu form an ideal environment — with one raft yielding up to 200 kilos (440 pounds) in around 45 days.
The product is then sent for sale in markets nationwide as well as the US and Australia through AquAgri, a private company that promotes algal cultivation in India.
Popular in East and South East Asian cuisine, seaweed is also used in medicine, cosmetics, bio-fertilizer and bio-fuel.
“Seaweed has major use as a crop bio-stimulant for increasing productivity and making the crop more resilient to climate induced stresses. It’s also used as a major ingredient in meat and food processing,” Abhiram Seth, managing director of AquAgri, told AFP.
And while it has not been traditionally popular in India, in July the government announced some $85 million in subsidies for seaweed farming initiatives over the next five years.
Seaweed cultivation is already common in Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Interest is growing in Australia, which has outlined a plan to develop a $100 million industry by 2025.
Seth said there was potential to benefit both the environment and farmers like Murgesan.
“Seaweeds clean up the water. At the same time seaweed cultivators get a sustainable income without having to relocate to urban areas to find work,” he explained.

Seaweed does not require fertilizer, freshwater, or pesticides. Kelp, one of the most commonly farmed types, grows at a rate of 61cm (two feet) a day.
They absorb an estimated 173 million metric tons of carbon each year — the same annual emissions as New York State, according to a 2016 paper in Nature Geosciences.
And a recent study by the University of California found that mixing red seaweed in animal feed could help reduce methane emissions.
“We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” Ermias Kebreab, director of the World Food Center, said in the research.
As well as absorbing carbon dioxide when it is alive, when it dies and drops to the seafloor, seaweed also keeps carbon in the sediment, Ganesan added.
However scientists say there can be downsides to farming it.
“Overharvesting seaweed has its drawbacks because it forms the food for many reef dwelling creatures like sea urchins and reef fish,” said marine biologist Naveen Namboothri, from Dakshin Foundation, adding that extraction could disturb the reef.
Conscious of these risks, Murgesan and the other farmers work for only 12 days a month and don’t harvest during the main fish breeding season, between April and June.
Seaweed farmer Vijaya Muthuraman, who never went to school, relies on traditional knowledge.
“We only grow as much as we need and in a way that doesn’t harm or kill the fish,” she said, sitting on the shore after the day’s toil, the gentle surf rising and ebbing behind her.
The dangers of getting hurt by the rocky sea bed or stung by jellyfish always lurk for the women, but they appeared undaunted, laughing and chatting away their worries.
“We face a lot of hazards but this work has given me and my family some dignity,” she said, adding: “Our living standards have improved and now others in my village also want to become seaweed farmers.”


World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study
Updated 28 October 2021

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study

World should shut nearly 3,000 coal plants to keep on climate track — study
  • China has reduced the share of coal in its total energy mix from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent last year, but absolute consumption volume has continued to rise

SHANGHAI, China: The world will need to shut down nearly 3,000 coal-fired power plants before 2030 if it is to have a chance of keeping temperature rises within 1.5 Celsius, according to research by climate think tank TransitionZero.
In a report published days before the UN COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, TransitionZero said there are currently more than 2,000 GW of coal-fired power in operation across the world, and that needs to be slashed by nearly half, requiring the closure of nearly one unit per day from now until the end of the decade.
The need to close nearly 1,000 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity would put the onus on China — the world’s biggest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas and owner of around half of the world’s coal-fueled plants — to accelerate its shift toward cleaner electricity.
“The logical conclusion is that half of the effort will need to come from China,” said Matt Gray, TransitionZero analyst and author of the report.
China has reduced the share of coal in its total energy mix from 72.4 percent in 2005 to 56.8 percent last year, but absolute consumption volume has continued to rise. President Xi Jinping vowed earlier this year that China would start to cut coal use, but only after 2025.

Its coal strategy has also come under added scrutiny in recent weeks as regulators try to find the extra volume required to resolve an energy crunch that has forced factories to shut and put winter heating and electricity supply at risk.
Gray said while coal consumption will rise in the short term, the crisis is forcing China to accelerate reform that will eventually help the country reduce its fossil fuel reliance.
A recent policy aimed at forcing operators of coal-fired power generators to sell electricity via the wholesale market will expose them to competition from renewable sources and further underscore their lack of competitiveness, he added.
“I think it is fair to say that keeping the lights on and keeping buildings warm will be the exclusive priority of the Chinese government coming into winter,” he said.
“But our hope is for this crisis to be seen as a wake-up call for being reliant on coal-fired power.”


Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
Updated 28 October 2021

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut

Traders losing $854k a day while Afghan-Pakistan border crossing stays shut
  • Border closed by Taliban due to ‘visa issues’: PAJCC chairman

KARACHI, Pakistan: The closure of one of Pakistan’s major border crossings with Afghanistan is costing local businesses up to 150 million Pakistani rupees ($854,000) per day in lost trade, commerce chiefs claimed on Wednesday.

Chaman is the second-largest commercial border point between the two countries and links the Balochistan province of Pakistan with Spin Boldak in the Afghan province of Kandahar.

It is one of the most regular trade routes used for the transportation of goods between the two countries.

The crossing, a vital source of customs revenue for the cash-strapped Taliban government in Afghanistan, has been closed for about three weeks, despite repeated protests by truckers and others stuck waiting at the border.

Muhammad Hashim Khan Achakzai, president of the Chaman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “The border has been closed since the first week of this month which is costing us between 100 million and 150 million rupees per day.

FASTFACT

Suspension of cross-border commerce has driven an estimated 50,000 local traders out of business.

“Every day around 10,000 people travel on both sides of the border from Chaman,” he said, adding that some laborers and traders had been waiting more than 20 days for the border to reopen.

As Afghanistan sinks deeper into economic crisis, neighboring countries have been increasingly worried about a mass movement of refugees. Now, the closure of Chaman and interruptions to traffic at Torkham in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, as well as the suspension of Pakistan Airlines flights from Kabul, have left Afghanistan largely cut off.

Originally closed by Pakistani authorities due to security threats, disputes over issues ranging from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to the validity of Afghan travel documents have prevented the reopening of the Chaman crossing, despite severe hardship to truckers and local farmers.

The border was briefly opened on Sunday night and people from both sides were allowed to cross over mainly on medical grounds. However, it was closed again and no movement of goods from either side has been allowed since, according to traders.

Pakistani officials said the issue was on the Afghan side and they expected it to be resolved within the next few days. A spokesperson for the Taliban was unavailable for comment.

Zubair Motiwala, chairman of the Pakistan Afghanistan Joint Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News: “They (the Taliban) have some visa issues, that is why they have closed the border. They are saying they will open it in a couple of days.” 

In the meantime, however, at least 50,000 people in Chaman district who are linked to cross-border trade in a population of around 200,000 continue to suffer.

Jalaat Khan Achakzai, a local trader and former president of the CCCI, told Arab News: “The border closure has driven some 50,000 small and medium traders out of business.”

Traders said trucks carrying dry fruits, vegetables, and other perishable items were parked on both sides of the border.

“Around 2,000 trucks carrying loaded and empty containers are waiting. Traders are also incurring losses as they have to pay around $150 container detention charges to the shipping companies,” Achakzai said.

Jamaluddin Achakzai, also a local trader and former president of the CCCI, said: “Talks between local officials and people from Spin Boldak have taken place but without any outcome. It is vital to open the border which is impacting the livelihoods of more than half-a-million people on both sides. The transporters are selling the fuel, petrol, and diesel of their vehicles to survive.”

Some who have crossed the border said the condition of both Pakistani and Afghan transporters was worsening.

Ehtisham Mufti, a senior Pakistani journalist who recently traveled through the area to Kandahar, told Arab News: “The condition of Pakistani and Afghan truckers on the Afghan side is even more painful as they don’t have enough financial resources to survive. Human tragedy can be avoided if immediate measures are taken in time.”


Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
Updated 28 October 2021

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence

Bombing in Myanmar city highlights escalating violence
  • UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war

BANGKOK, Thailand: Midday bombings near a busy government office injured at least nine people in Myanmar’s second biggest city on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest high-profile attack by militants opposed to the country’s military rulers.

Other attacks by foes of the government were also reported on social media and news websites sympathetic to the opposition. Shootings and bombings in Myanmar’s cities and armed clashes in the countryside are daily occurrences, and UN officials and other observers have warned that unrest triggered by the military’s seizure of power in February is spinning toward civil war.

Two explosions rocked an area near the Road Transport Administration Department in Mandalay, damaging at least 14 motorbikes, witnesses said by phone. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of being targeted by security forces for speaking to the media.

A member of the Htarni Shae Rescue team said four people were hurt in the initial blast  five more from his and another rescue team when the second explosion took place after they arrived with ambulances. Such rescue teams are usually charity organizations and are common in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Video of the busy location posted online showed two columns of flames and smoke rising into the air as people ran in panic along the adjacent road.

A group calling itself the Special Attacking Force (Upper Burma) said on its Facebook page that it had carried out the bombing. It said it wanted to deprive the military government of revenue to buy bullets. The targeted office collects driving fees and taxes.

The group warned people to stay away from agencies that collect money for the government.

Similar opposition groups are active all over Myanmar, many calling themselves people’s defense forces.

Opposition to military rule has hardened in the months since the army seized power, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The takeover was first met by nonviolent demonstrations which were suppressed with deadly force by the army and police. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed about 1,200 civilians, a figure the government says is too high.

Protesters then began using more active self-defense as violence escalated on both sides. The government is now facing an insurgency in the cities, where militants’ actions typically include bombings and targeted killings, and in the countryside, where soldiers battle village militias and the established guerrilla forces of ethnic minorities that have sought greater autonomy for decades.

Wednesday’s attack in Mandalay was in support of a civil disobedience movement that seeks to deprive the state of workers and revenue. Civil servants have been encouraged to stay away from work and customers have been urged not to pay their electricity bills.

The Special Attacking Force said it had issued many warnings to the Road Transport Administration Department and other government offices that support the functioning of the government, called the State Administration Council.


UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
Updated 27 October 2021

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives

UK to increase foreign aid spending by 2024 — but delay could cost lives
  • London cut foreign aid spending by billions last year to manage pandemic
  • Poverty, child labor, child marriage will persist until aid budget increased, charity tells Arab News

LONDON: Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid spending back to pre-pandemic levels by 2024 have been welcomed by charities, but some have told Arab News that the delay could have serious humanitarian ramifications.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on Wednesday that London would return to its legal obligation to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product — around $5 billion in real terms — on foreign aid by 2024, up from the current 0.5 percent implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our improving fiscal situation means we will meet our obligations to the worlds’ poorest,” Sunak said while delivering the Treasury’s annual budget announcement. “Today’s forecast shows that we are in fact scheduled to return to 0.7 percent in 2024 and 2025.”

The cuts were forced through Parliament after much resistance from cross-bench politicians, who warned that massive reductions to the UK’s aid spending would have dire real-world consequences for countless people the world over, including many in the Middle East.

Some charities and humanitarian organizations have welcomed Sunak’s pledge to increase foreign aid spending back to 0.7 percent.

“We welcome the projection for UK aid funding to return to 0.7 percent in 2024/25. In the meantime, UK aid remains a critical lifeline for millions of people in need of urgent assistance, with humanitarian needs soaring, due to a mixture of COVID-19, climate and conflict,” Richard Blewitt, an executive director at the British Red Cross, told Arab News.

“We call on the government to ensure aid continues to be allocated on the basis of need. UK aid needs to be prioritized for the most vulnerable communities in the world where suffering is reaching unprecedented levels.”

But others have warned that the three-year delay could have serious consequences for vulnerable Syrians, Yemenis and others, as well as a negative impact on the UK’s security and the country’s post-Brexit ambition to become “Global Britain.”

Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News that “the most optimistic scenario is that there is only a minor increase in suffering, and the NGO community and other donors are able to fill the gaps left by such a huge aid budget reduction” until the aid is increased later in the decade.

“However, it is likely that the cuts will mean a rise in poverty and a rise in negative coping mechanisms such as selling assets, child labor and early marriage.”

His organization has been providing life-saving aid and support in Syria throughout the country’s brutal war.

Because of the aid cuts, “the most vulnerable in Syrian society will be exposed to even greater risk,” Lawley said.

“A situation that creates desperation usually results in a poorer security situation. People could very well look for income through groups that do pose a threat to UK interests,” he added.

“These are not the actions of the ‘soft-power superpower’ that ‘Global Britain’ was meant to be. This is the action of a short-sighted little England.”