Read The Hindu Notes of 2nd February 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 2nd February 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 2nd February 2019
  • Distributing the rewards of reform

    The expansive Budget reflects the fruits of fiscal consolidation, tax reform and streamlined delivery of subsidies

  • Since Budget 2019 is the last before the general election this year, it was widely expected to be an assessment of the government’s performance. There was a debate on whether the Budget should have announced any substantive measures since they would bind the next government, post-election.
  • It turns out the report card is good enough to create space for some substantial measures. Painstaking fiscal consolidation, tax reform, more efficient delivery of subsidies, and a rise in the share of capital expenditure, have created the space to reward tax-payers as well as announce a relief measure for farmers in distress without substantially compromising fiscal consolidation. It is fair that this government, which imposed the painful reforms and undertook difficult action, should also distribute some rewards of that reform.
  • Rewards of higher growth

  • It may be asked how payment of ₹20,000-₹75,000 crore can be made to farmers and the tax benefits given with only a marginal impact on the fiscal deficit. But a larger size economy can afford to spend larger absolute amounts with only a small rise in deficit ratios and borrowing requirements. The fact that India is the sixth largest and fastest growing economy in the world has some advantages as well as responsibilities to equitably share the rewards of growth.
  • Demonetisation, the goods and services tax (GST) and other steps towards formalisation increased the tax base, and it follows that tax rates can themselves be cut. Again it is fair that the aam aadmi, who bore some of the costs of reform, should now benefit from the success of these. It makes good economic sense to move towards a system of a wider base and lower rates. Tax receipts have grown from 10% of GDP — a level at which they had stagnated since the tax cuts after the global financial crisis — to 12%. Although the GST has not yet resulted in a rise in indirect tax ratios above 5.5%, it is likely to do so in the future as it stabilises. The transfers to farmers and tax cuts amount to only 0.4% of GDP this year and are partially funded by a 0.3% rise in tax ratios.
  • The JAM (or Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) complex is the other major set of reforms that enable a smaller expenditure to have a larger impact on social welfare. Jan Dhan bank accounts opened through the country and the Aadhaar data base make a cost-effective Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) possible for farmers.
  • Rewards of lower inflation

  • A slight rise in fiscal deficits to fund transfers to farmers does not threaten macroeconomic stability when inflation is low and food prices are crashing. In fact they are likely to help stabilise prices so that farmers do not cut production in the next crop cycle.
  • Moreover, this year, the revenue deficit has been maintained, the primary deficit been reduced, and expenditure on capital account been increased. Better quality of government expenditure as well as the GST tax cuts, reductions in obstacles to inter-State trade, and soft commodity prices will keep inflation low.
  • The Budget points out that highways are being built at the rate of 27 km per day, which makes India the fastest builder in the world. Railway safety has improved. Better implementation and reduction in waste brings down costs across the board. The shift in the Budget date to earlier in the year and the focus on spending in the first half have resulted in a better achievement of sectoral spending targets this year.
  • Government borrowing

  • The size of government borrowing is larger than what the market anticipated, and this has raised G-Sec rates. The rise in gross borrowing is because of higher redemptions but net borrowing is similar to that last year. There was a sharp rise in G-Sec yields that year. As a result, interest payments as a ratio to GDP rose to 3.2 against the budgeted 3.
  • But 3.4% of GDP is not a large fiscal deficit, and market conditions are likely to be more supportive of government borrowing this year. First, the international rate rise has peaked, with the U.S. Fed turning dovish and indicating that there will be no more rise; it is likely to maintain its balance sheet. Emerging market inflows are set to rise, creating demand for G-Secs up to the current cap of 6% of the domestic market. Soft oil prices will encourage foreign investors to return to Indian markets. But since global growth is slowing, inflows are unlikely to be as large as they were in 2017. Therefore, there will be more room for open market operations (OMO) from the Reserve Bank of India that support the debt market. Softening interest rates will also make banks more willing to hold G-Secs.
  • When international demand is slowing, it is important to maintain domestic demand. Therefore, tax cuts, more income to farmers and various schemes to improve demand for housing, which has been under stress, are all appropriate.
  • While the budgetary contribution to capital expenditure remains at about 1.6% of GDP there is a rise in internal and extra-budgetary resources, which are now larger than gross budgetary support. But public enterprises must be able to raise and use internal resources. This is a healthy sign of efficiency, market viability and reduced dependency on the government. Even market borrowing by such enterprises used for investment when private investment remains low, is likely to crowd in (rather than crowd out) private investment. It will raise demand which will induce more private investment. The latter remains still constrained by low demand at present, except for a few sectors where capacity constraints are appearing.
  • Improving efficiencies

  • Coming back to the issue of binding the next government, post the election, it is necessary that sharing of growth benefits is done in ways that sustain growth, reduce distortions, and improve capabilities to participate in growth.
  • Well-targeted transfers can be made without destroying fiscal consolidation and creating macroeconomic vulnerabilities. As competitive populism creates talk of unfunded universal income schemes, or farm loan waivers that hurt growth of farm credit, it is better to bind the next government to schemes that are less distorting.
  • The Budget continues the effort to reduce transaction costs and improve compliance incentives. Stamp duty amendments that seek to tax just one transaction, which will be shared across State governments, on the basis of the domicile of the buying client, will reduce a major market irritant, increase transactions and take the country further toward becoming one effective market.
  • As income tax returns rise, a less than 0.05% will be selected for scrutiny in non-discretionary, machine-based ways without any interface between the tax-payer and the examining officers, thus reducing potential tax-payer harassment.
  • India is a very difficult country to change. Problems remain, but the rewards are beginning to appear and should be greeted with cheers.
  • The return of targeted cash transfers

    Schemes promising cash to the poor absolve the state of its responsibility to provide basic services like health

  • With the announcement of a minimum income guarantee (MIG) scheme by the Congress president, the agenda of universal basic income (UBI) has moved from an academic discussion to the political arena. As of now the proposal of MIG is only an electoral promise with no further details available. On Friday, the general budget announced a scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, under which vulnerable landholding farmer families, having cultivable land up to 2 hectares, will be provided direct income support of ₹6,000 a year. The appeal of some form of income transfer is now seriously being discussed by all political formations. The idea is not new and has been in discussion for some time among academics in India but attracted attention after it was proposed in the Economic Survey of 2017.
  • Who will benefit?

  • In simple terms the proposal of transferring some income to every citizen is built on the twin principles of universality and a notion of minimum basic income to those living at the poverty line. The principle of universality is at the core of it given the problems of targeting. But some form of income support to those who are unable to participate in labour market has been there in most countries in some form or other including in India, like the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) pensions for widows, elderly and disabled.
  • Although the idea of UBI has been in discussion for decades, no country has implemented it. While a proposal for UBI was rejected by a three-fourth majority in Switzerland, Finland which started a pilot has now discontinued it. But even in Finland, the pilot was not a strict UBI but a social protection scheme aimed at only the unemployed. While there have been some pilots by NGOs in developing countries in Asia and Africa, they have varied in content of transfer and coverage with only few being fully universal and only the Namibia pilot experiment provided income transfer to people in the poverty line.
  • The proposals in the Indian context have mostly been for a targeted income transfer scheme and not UBI. In developed countries, the UBI is supposed to supplement existing social security provisions and a top-up over and above universal provision of health, education and so on. In the Indian context, most arguments in favour of UBI are premised on the inefficiencies of existing social security interventions and seek to replace some of these with direct cash transfers.
  • Not leakage proof

  • It is not just the fascination for targeting the poor which is at the core of these proposals but also a belief that all existing forms of social security transfers are inefficient. While there is certainly some exaggeration in such claims, it is not true that the system of cash transfers is efficient and therefore leakage proof. Several studies on cash transfers including one by J-PAL South Asia for NITI Aayog found that cash transfers are not greatly superior in terms of leakages compared to other schemes of in-kind transfer such as the public distribution system (PDS). On the other hand, numerous studies have documented that a move towards universalisation and use of technology enabled Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu to reduce leakages in the PDS. But the real message from these experiments is also that universalisation is the key to efficient delivery of services against targeting proposed by these cash transfer schemes.
  • The obsession with cash transfers also comes with an understanding that these will take care of all problems. The current sets of proposals claim these as silver bullets for agrarian crisis to malnutrition to educational deficit and also a solution for the job crisis. This is a tall order with different reasons for persistence for some of these. A good example is the public distribution system (PDS) where it is clearly established that in-kind transfers are twice as effective in increasing calorie intake compared to equivalent cash transfer.
  • The real issue with the approach of a targeted cash transfer scheme is that it envisions the role of the state to only providing cash income to the poor. This kind of ‘Robin Hood’ approach seeks to absolve the state of its responsibility in providing basic services such as health, education, nutrition and livelihood. But it is also iniquitous since it seeks to create demand for services without supplying the services, leaving the poor to depend on private service providers. There is now sufficient evidence which shows that privatisation of basic services such as health and education leads to large scale exclusion of the poor and marginalised. In any case, India is among the countries with lowest expenditure to GDP ratio as far as expenditure on health, education and so on are concerned.
  • Jobs, best antidote

  • The best antidote to poverty is enabling citizens to earn their living by providing jobs. For those who are willing to work, schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Scheme should be strengthened to enable then to earn decent incomes. Similarly, the crisis in agriculture is unlikely to be resolved by income transfers. But even with free and universal access to public services and access to livelihood opportunities, there may be a role for cash transfers, particularly for those who are unable to access the labour market or are marginalised due to other reasons. The NSAP seeks to do exactly that by providing pensions to elderly, widows and disabled. But even for these vulnerable and marginalised groups, the Central contribution to pensions has been only ₹200 per month. If governments cannot ensure decent incomes to the poor, then the issue is not of details of minimum income transfers but that of intent of those who are promising to eradicate poverty through income transfers. On this, there is no ambiguity.
  • Back to crisis

    The handling of the fresh unrest in Zimbabwe by Mugabe’s successor belies hope of change

  • The bloody unrest in Zimbabwe suggests that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s political honeymoon is over. The veteran of the struggle for freedom was the beneficiary of the overthrow of strongman Robert Mugabe in November 2017. Mr. Mnangagwa raised hopes in the run-up to the July general election, promising free and fair polls and inspections by international observers. But his victory proved controversial as allegations of vote-rigging by the ruling ZANU-PF machinery in the rural areas began to bear echoes of the Mugabe era. In six months since his election, the ex-security chief’s pledge to distance himself from his military legacy and open the economy for foreign investment has been put to severe test. A case in point is Mr. Mnangagwa’s handling of the fallout of the recent steep fuel price hike in which over 10 protesters are said to have been killed. Zimbabwe’s defence forces have come under severe condemnation for the general crackdown, involving arbitrary detentions, torture and a country-wide Internet blackout. Harare’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, has faced attacks on its main office, while trade unions behind the nation-wide strike appear resolute in their bid for redress. The crisis forced President Mnangagwa to call off his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. But his attempt to put the blame both on the security forces and the protesters may merely point to his own political vulnerability. The official response to the mass opposition against fuel price hikes were directed by his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, when the President was away. Mr. Chiwenga was the mastermind behind the 2017 coup, and the man he installed must assert his authority to ensure accountability and respect for the rule of law.
  • The sudden doubling of fuel prices has amplified Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of U.S. dollars to sustain the import of basic goods. Following the hyper-inflation of the previous decade, the country abandoned its own currency. The electronic alternative, “bond notes” that were introduced without physical backing, unleashed a vicious cycle of hoarding and price inflation. The decline in the value of the surrogate currency against hard money has caused distress among public servants. Many businesses have folded up for want of adequate foreign currency. Mr. Mnangagwa’s government has moved to reduce the issue of electronic debt, and to curtail the ballooning fiscal deficit. While these may be steps in the right direction, they are too small as incentives to entice a deeply sceptical investor community that was once turned away. Mr. Mnangagwa has his task cut out: to shore up his own base in the ZANU-PF establishment and to restore calm across the country. Equally, he cannot abandon the difficult path of reform, which is the only guarantee of stability in the long term.
  • Shopping for votes

    The interim budget casts away established conventions and targets votes with sops

  • As election-eve budgets go, Interim Budget 2019-20 must rank as one of the most politically expedient ones this country has seen. The shadow of the general election falls squarely on the budget proposals, which are aimed at seeking votes in the name of various schemes that rain cash on beneficiaries. Whether the strategy will work at the hustings remains to be seen. But there is no denying that a lot of thought has gone into identifying and targeting the sections of population across social segments that are in distress and unhappy with the Centre for a variety of reasons. There is an income support scheme for farmers who are reeling under the impact of falling realisations for their crops, and a pension scheme for informal sector workers earning up to ₹15,000 a month. There are income tax concessions for the middle class that have been carefully framed to target the lower rung. The ₹6,000 a year income support to farmers will benefit 12 crore households, which is almost half of the total number of households. Similarly, the increase in standard deduction from ₹40,000 to ₹50,000 may be small but it will cover three crore taxpayers, which is again almost half of the 6.8 crore taxpayers. The income tax rebate on those with taxable annual income of up to ₹5 lakh a year will benefit three crore middle class voters that includes traders, small businesses, those who have just joined the formal workforce and pensioners.
  • While these sops will benefit sections of the population, the question is whether it is correct for a government that will be in power for less than two months in the next financial year to write into the statute books proposals that are permanent. Though some past governments have announced sops in their interim budgets with an eye on elections, this budget has gone much further by announcing very significant measures. In political terms, the strategy cannot be faulted as it appears to have put the Opposition in a difficult spot — protesting too much about the concessions given to those in distress may be counter-productive. That said, some of these ideas may actually work in economic terms as they put money in people’s hands. The housing-related tax proposals can give a leg-up to the real estate sector, which is a job-creator and is now in trouble. The sops come with a cost, though. The Centre will miss the glide-path for reducing the fiscal deficit, yet again. The estimated slippage of 0.10 percentage point is not significant if we assume that the concessions will spur spending by the beneficiaries. This is, of course, assuming that the gross tax revenue projection of ₹25.52 lakh crore, which is a 13.5% growth over the revised estimates of 2018-19, is achieved. But this arithmetic will be the headache of the next government.
  • Life after citizenship

    It’s been more than three years since the exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh took place in July 2015. But in Cooch Behar’s erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves and the newly established settlement camps, life hasn’t become any easier for the 15,000 newly minted citizens of India, reports Shiv Sahay Singh

    Life after citizenship
  • It’s a Saturday morning and Jihad Hussain Obama sits quietly in his one-room school, waiting for the flag-hoisting ceremony to begin. He is one of several children, from Masaldanga village in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district, whose parents had chosen to stay back in India rather than return to Bangladesh.
  • Ramzan Ali, 40, a local schoolteacher, keeps him company along with other children, who are crammed into a small area next to a Sishu Siksha Kendra that was started in 2011 by the erstwhile enclave dwellers. Most of the children study in bigger primary schools but have assembled at this one-room school to celebrate Republic Day. The tiny space outside the room is decorated with coloured ribbons and a national flag. The school, with tin sheets for walls, is bare except for a couple of plastic chairs.
  • Ali explains the significance of the occasion to the children. He makes them sing the national anthem and chant ‘Vande Mataram’. Obama tells everyone that he is nine years old. But many in this erstwhile Bangladeshi enclave, now a part of India, know that he is a few months shy of nine.
  • The residents of Masaldanga, located about 26 km from Dinhata town, have no trouble in recalling the last few days of March 2010, the time when Obama’s mother Asama Bibi, nearly lost her baby (Osama). Masaldanga was a Bangladeshi enclave in those days, and Asama Bibi, then in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was not only denied medical attention at the Dinhata Sub-divsional Hospital in Cooch Behar but also threatened with arrest for seeking services at a state-run health facility despite being a Bangladeshi. It was only after vociferous protests by the enclave dwellers that the hospital authorities yielded. Asama Bibi finally got the medical attention she needed and had a safe delivery.
  • The exchange

  • Much has changed in Masaldanga since August 2015, when the Land Boundary Agreement was implemented. Before this exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh, which came into effect from the midnight of July 31, 2015, there were 111 Indian enclaves in four districts of Bangladesh, and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.
  • There was a population of about 34,000 people in the 111 enclaves, and when the option of moving to India was given, 922 people registered their names. These people are now living in three camps in Cooch Behar — at Dinhata, Haldibari and Mekhliganj.
  • The 51 Bangladeshi enclaves, which were also located in Cooch Behar, became a part of India. There were 14,854 people living in these enclaves, including those of Masaldanga and Potarkuthi. But not one citizen from these enclaves has exercised the option of moving to Bangladesh. Most of them are farmers.
  • Not too long ago, the road leading to Masaldanga was a kutcha one. It was also a site of prolonged protests by villagers demanding citizenship rights. Now it is paved, and half-a-dozen solar-powered irrigation pumps are visible in the paddy and mustard fields nearby. There are also new anganwadi centres, primary schools, and power lines that were installed recently, ensuring electric supply to most of the tin houses in the area. Along with the rest of the village’s residents, Obama is now an Indian citizen.
  • Soon after the flag-hoisting, candies are distributed to the children. Obama takes the newly paved road to a paddy field nearby where his mother is busy making small bundles of paddy saplings. Asama Bibi has paid ₹55,000 for a three-year lease on 1.5 bigha of land. (A bigha is a measure of land area varying locally from 1/3 to 1 acre.) She looks worried. She is concerned not just by the poor yield but also by the fact that her three children, including Obama, are yet to receive proper identity documents.
  • The need for fake parents

  • Before the exchange of enclaves, people living in the adjoining areas that were part of the Indian mainland were often presented as the parents of children from the enclaves. This helped them get admission in schools and colleges, and avail treatment in government hospitals. Sadly, even three years after getting citizenship, the people from the erstwhile enclaves are still finding it difficult to get their identity documents corrected. Says Asama Bibi, “My son Obama, who is in Class III, wants to become a doctor. But in the school they are asking for his birth certificate. His older sister, Sapla, is in Class VIII. In her case, a couple from the mainland had presented themselves as her parents so that she could continue with her studies.”
  • Ali believes that the formal conferment of citizenship is yet to ease the economic and bureaucratic hardships faced by the people. “Their lives have essentially remained the same,” he says.
  • Chhabir Sekh, 40, a resident of Masaldanga, had been working as a construction worker in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, for almost a decade before the exchange of enclaves took place. He received a new voter identification card after August 2015. But his sense of insecurity is such that he still carries his fake photo identification card, for which he had paid ₹4,000. He says, “Life remains the same. There are no jobs here, so I still go to work in Noida. All that we’ve got are a few documents.” His 17-year-old son, Ajhar, dropped out of school some years ago and now works with him in Noida.
  • About 80 km from Masaldanga is the Haldibari Enclave Settlement Camp, home to 96 families that moved here in November 2015 from Indian enclaves located in Bangladesh. These are the families that made a conscious choice to shift to India even though they had the option of staying back where they had lived all their lives.
  • Spread over several acres, the camp is a row of tin sheds with alpha-numeric lettering on every house. Sanjay Pandit, the Block Development Officer (BDO) of Haldibari, is the chief guest for the Republic Day ceremony here. Pandit explains the importance of Republic Day to the audience, dwelling in particular on freedom of speech. The children of the settlement, dressed in school uniforms of different colours, some in shoes and others in slippers, do a march-past in front of the BDO.
  • Since November 2015, the only discernible change in the camp are the e-rickshaws parked outside every other house. These e-rickshaws, or totos, as they are locally called, run on chargeable batteries and are a primary source of income for the residents. More than 30 families have bought these e-rickshaws using the money they got by selling their land and property in Bangladesh. Annaprasad Ray, a class XII student, often misses his classes at the nearby Haldibari College as he has to supplement the family income by driving a toto.
  • Ray is not the only youngster who faces such a situation. His friend, Kalyan, is a second year BA student, and neighbours, Gobind, Niranjan, Sadhan Chandra Roy and Phuleshwar, are all graduates. But all of them depend on driving totos and doing odd jobs to provide for their families.
  • Says Sadhan Chandra Roy, who has enrolled for a Masters degree in political science, “We had our schooling in Bangladesh, but the certificates are not accepted when we apply for jobs. We came to India with a lot of dreams, but our lives remain in darkness.” Occasionally, the youngsters speak to their friends on the other side of the border. The conversations leave them convinced that those in Bangladesh have better opportunities.
  • From camps to flats

  • The Cooch Behar district administration has a separate enclave cell (or department) for the erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves that have become Indian territory as well as for the three settlement camps (at Haldibari, Mekhliganj and Dinhata). Every family in the camps gets 30 kg of rice, five kg of pulses, five litres of cooking oil, and one kg of salt a month. The administration is also building three residential complexes where an apartment will be given to each of these families.
  • Rabindranath Ghosh, Minister-in-charge, North Bengal Development Department, and an MLA from Cooch Behar, is convinced that the problems of the erstwhile enclave dwellers have been resolved. He points out that the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has passed an amendment in the State Assembly to give land rights to the people of the 51 erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves that are now a part of India. He adds that land documents have been provided to 12,560 beneficiaries.
  • Says Ghosh, “Only 30 km from Cooch Behar is Assam, where the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has left lakhs of people struggling for nationality. Here in West Bengal we have provided every assistance to the enclaves.” According to him, India’s newest citizens have got everything that they were promised, and soon those living in camps will be shifted to the apartments that the government is constructing.
  • It was on January 3, this year that Mansur Ali, 80, of Poatarkuthi, an erstwhile Bangladeshi enclave, got land documents in his name. Mansur says that for him, the day he got his land documents is as important as July 31, 2015, the day the exchange of enclaves made him an Indian citizen. He has carefully preserved a newspaper report in a local Bengali daily which has a photograph of him accepting the land papers from the Minister. Says Mansur, “We have received legal ownership of our land after 82 years. My grandfather, Kalu Sheikh, had these land records in his name in 1936, and now, after so many years, we have managed to get them in our name.” Mansur has been a witness to several chapters of India’s recent history, from the British Raj to Indian independence, the creation of Bangladesh, and now the exchange of enclaves. Today he is a happy man willing to overlook the mistakes that are still present in his land document.
  • Often referred as Monsur Dhani (Rich Monsur), Mansur has generously donated more than 2 bighas of his land for an anganwadi centre and a community hall. Painted in blue and white, the official colours of the ruling Trinamool Congress government, these buildings are ready but not yet functional, owing to a controversy over staff recruitment.
  • Mansur and other local residents have protested against the formal opening of these facilities, demanding that the jobs in these government institutions be given to their family members and not ‘outsiders’. He says, “We suffered so much for so many decades while the state turned a blind eye to our plight. Now finally when our struggle has yielded something positive, how can we let outsiders grab all the jobs in the first schools and anganwadi centres to come up in our villages?”
  • Joynal Abedin of Masaldanga is a well known activist from the area. He asks: “For nearly 70 years, the people of these enclaves were denied the most basic facilities that the state must offer. How can the state now suddenly treat them on a par with other citizens? Don’t these 15,000-odd people [14,854 plus the 922 who came from the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh] deserve some preference or reservation for these jobs on account of the historical injustice they’ve endured?” He adds that the struggle for these erstwhile enclave-dwellers is hardly over, while introducing Rahman Ali, 27, another resident of Poatarkuthi, who recently managed to get the name of his father corrected in school and college certificates.
  • Like thousands of other children in these former enclaves, Rahman had lied about his parents while getting admission in school. Instead of mentioning Naskar Ali of Poatarkuthi as his father, his records stated it to be Sahar Ali of Khatmari village. It took hundreds of letters as official correspondence and several visits to various government offices to get the records corrected. These days Rahman regularly fields desperate queries from people who want to know how he managed to achieve something that remains a Herculean task for most citizens of this erstwhile enclave.
  • ‘No official visits us’

    The Republic Day celebrations at the Dinhata settlement camp are a low-key affair. Osman Gani, 37, one of the few Muslims who chose to come to India, says that since no politician or official ever visits the camp, they decided to unfurl the national flag by themselves. The camp, located in Dinhata town, is greener than the other camps as residents have planted papaya trees and different kinds of vines and creepers.

  • Gani laughs when asked about moving to the apartment which the State government is constructing for the 58 families in this camp. “What will we do with the flats? Most of our lives were spent in Bangladesh. Then we came to the live in the camps, and now we have to leave this also?”
  • Mrinal Barman, 39, another resident of the Dinhata camp, is more agitated by the question. He asks, “How can the government wash its hands of any responsibility by giving us apartments? Before coming to the camp, Barman was a resident of Dashiachara, a former Indian enclave in Bangladesh’s Kurigram district, where he owned about 16 bighas of land. When he crossed over to India after July 2015, Barman, along with his family members, brought with him an irrigation pump and two goats, in the expectation that the Indian government would give him a piece of land. Though one of the goats has died since then, Barman has not lost hope.
  • He says, “This goat that is still alive is the responsibility of the Indian government as all the formalities were completed before we crossed the border. Where will this animal go if we are asked to stay in an apartment? I will file a case if the government does not provide a place for the goat.”
  • Barman’s goat-based argument has many takers in the Dinhata camp. The settlement has nine cows and 20 goats, some distributed by Barman himself. The newest citizens of India will most definitely bring up the issue of shelter for their cattle as and when they are told to leave the camp.
  • At the Mekhliganj settlement camp, about 115 km from Dinhata and the smallest of the three camps, Bipul Chandra Barman has little time to speak. His father, Binay Chandra Barman, had died on January 16, this year and he is busy with religious rituals outside his house. He says that the families in this camp are from the Hathibandha and Patgram areas of Lalmonirhat district in Bangladesh.
  • Ripon, 21, like his brother Bipul, is also wearing a dhoti and has his head tonsured. He says that he could not apply for West Bengal’s Vivekananda Merit Cum Means scholarship (a scheme for meritorious and economically backward students) as his Class X certificates from Bangladesh are not being accepted in India. Here too, driving e-rickshaws seems to be the primary occupation.
  • Jugal Roy, 47, a toto driver, is also against the idea of moving to one of the apartments being built by the State government, which is about 15 km from the camp. He says that the buildings are coming up in a remote area near a riverbed, an area prone to flooding during the monsoon, and that there is not even a bridge to ensure connectivity when the water rises.
  • Not surprisingly, the very mention of another ‘displacement’ —though only to an apartment — angers the residents of Mekhliganj. Says Swapna Rani Barman, one of the camp residents, “We want to stay here at this very camp. But despite several protests, the administration is insisting that we shift to its flats.”
  • She also draws attention to something unusual. This January was the first time in the past three years that these 47 families, who had left their homes in the erstwhile Indian enclaves of Bangladesh to come and live here as Indian citizens, did not hoist the national flag and observe Republic Day.
  • “Earlier officials and politicians would visit us on Republic Day. This year we heard from no one,” Roy says. “It appears that they do not care about us any more.”