Current Affairs 21st March

NITI Aayog vision for Great Nicobar ignores tribal, ecological concerns #GS3 #Environment

In what appears to a re-run of recent developments in Little Andaman Island (A bullet through an island’s heart, The Hindu , February 1), more than 150 sq. km. of land is being made available for Phase I of a NITI Aayog-piloted ‘holistic’ and ‘sustainable’ vision for Great Nicobar Island, the southernmost in the Andaman and Nicobar group. This amounts to nearly 18% of the 910 sq. km. island, and will cover nearly a quarter of its coastline. The overall plan envisages the use of about 244 sq. km. – a major portion being pristine forest and coastal systems.

Projects to be executed in Phase I include a 22 sq. km. airport complex, a transshipment port (TSP) at South Bay at an estimated cost of Rs. 12,000 crore, a parallel-to-the-coast mass rapid transport system and a free trade zone and warehousing complex on the south western coast.

What stands out prominently in the whole process, starting with the designation in mid-2020 of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation (ANIIDCO) as the nodal agency, is the speed and co-ordination with which it has all unfolded. The other is the centrality of the NITI Aayog. First, on September 4, 2020, the Director, Tribal Welfare, A&N Islands, constituted an empowered committee to examine NITI Aayog’s proposals for various projects in Little Andaman and Great Nicobar Islands. A copy of the 2015 ‘Policy on Shompen Tribe of Great Nicobar Island’ was part of the communication sent out, giving an indication of the aims of the committee.

Significant changes have also been effected to the legal regimes for wildlife and forest conservation.

Ecological uniqueness

In its meeting on January 5, 2021, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) denotified the entire Galathea Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to allow for the port there.

The NBWL committee seemed unaware that India’s National Marine Turtle Action Plan that was under preparation then (it was released on February 1, 2021) had listed Galathea Bay as one of the ‘Important Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Areas’ and ‘Important Marine Turtle Habitats’ in the country. It is included in Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ)-I, the zone with maximum protection.

Then, on January 18, another Environment Ministry expert committee approved a “zero extent” Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) for the Galathea NP to allow use of land in the south-eastern and south-western part of the island for the NITI Aayog plan. The October 2020 draft notification for this zero extent ESZ had ironically listed out in great detail the park’s ecological uniqueness – that it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, houses a range of forest types, has one of the best preserved tropical rainforests in the world, is home to 648 species of flora and hosts 330 species of fauna including rare and endemic ones such as the Nicobar wild pig, Nicobar tree shrew, the Great Nicobar crested serpent eagle, Nicobar paradise flycatcher and the Nicobar megapode. It also notes that the park is home to the indigenous Shompen community.

The notification says that an ESZ is needed to protect the park from an ecological, environmental and biodiversity point of view, but goes on in the very next para to propose a zero extent ESZ for nearly 70% of the periphery of the park.

It is almost as if the unique diversity of life just listed suddenly disappeared because of an arbitrary line drawn to allow a slew of high value projects.

This is illustrated in the case of the Giant leatherback turtle and the Nicobar megapode, two charismatic species for whom Great Nicobar is very important. The beaches here, like at the mouth of the river Galathea in South Bay are among the most prominent nesting sites globally of the Giant leatherback. It for this reason that the bay was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1997, but has now been denotified to allow for the transhipment port.

In his 2007 study of the Nicobar megapode, the globally endangered bird unique to the Nicobars, K. Sivakumar of the Wildlife Institute of India documented 90% of this ground nesting bird’s nests to be within a distance of 30 m from the shore. He notes that the existing protected area network in Great Nicobar is not designed for the protection of the megapode and recommends that the entire west and southern coast of Great Nicobar – precisely the area sought for the NITI Aayog proposals – be protected for the megapode and other wildlife like nesting marine turtles. This is also in stark contrast to the current move to create a zero extent ESZ for the Galathea National Park.

Threat to Shompen

Similar concerns exist about the impact on the Shompen community. The proposed project areas are important foraging grounds for this hunter-gatherer nomadic community and the official Shompen Policy of 2015 specifically noted that the welfare and integrity of these people should be given priority “with regard to large-scale development proposals in the future for Great Nicobar Island (such as trans-shipment port/container terminal etc.)”. Now, large forest areas here could become inaccessible and useless for the Shompen.

Available evidence suggests that issues of the geological volatility of these islands are also not being factored in. The December 26, 2019, tender document by WAPCOS Limited for a ‘Traffic Study for Creating Transshipment port at South Bay, Great Nicobar Island’ justifies the port here by noting that “the topography of the island is best suited, which has not been damaged much even by the tsunami on 26.11.2004 (sic)”.

Yet, a 2005 Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Special Earthquake Report by a multi-disciplinary team from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, recorded witness accounts of 8-metre-high tsunami waves hitting the Great Nicobar coast on December 26, 2004. “The lighthouse at Indira Point, the southernmost tip of the Great Nicobar Island, which was on high ground before the earthquake,” the report notes, “is now under water, indicating a land subsidence of about 3-4 m.”

Loss of life and property then was limited because the Great Nicobar coast is largely uninhabited. This raises questions over safety of life, property and the investments in this zone and that too without accounting for the complex ecological, social and geological vulnerabilities here. Little, if anything, is also known of the NITI Aayog vision document itself – What is its rationale? What was the process of its creation? Which agencies/individuals were involved? What impact assessments, if any, have been done at all?

Neither the NITI Aayog nor the agencies that are facilitating it with zeal have made this available.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/niti-aayog-vision-for-great-nicobar-ignores-tribal-ecological-concerns/article34122009.ece

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/niti-aayog-vision-ignores-tribal-concerns/article34121953.ece

India, United States resolve to intensify defence cooperation #GS2 #IR

India resolved to intensify defence cooperation with the U.S. Central Command in Florida and with the U.S. Commands in the Indo-Pacific region and Africa. The announcement was made by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who held talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense General Lloyd James Austin III (retd). Mr. Austin described the partnership as a “central pillar” of the American policy for the Indo-Pacific.

“We reviewed the wide gamut of bilateral and multilateral exercises and agreed to pursue enhanced cooperation with the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command and Africa Command. Acknowledging that we have in place the foundational agreements, LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA, we discussed steps to be taken to realise their full potential for mutual benefit,” Mr. Singh said at a joint meeting with the media at the Vigyan Bhavan.

He said the bilateral discussion covered “military-to-military engagement across services, information sharing, cooperation in emerging sectors of defence, and mutual logistics support”.

Earlier in the day, the visiting Secretary of Defense paid tributes at the National War Memorial. He arrived here on Friday and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “India in particular is an increasingly important partner among today’s rapidly shifting international dynamics. I reaffirm our commitment to a comprehensive and forward looking defence partnership with India as a central pillar to our approach to the region.

This is his first trip after taking charge on January 22 as part of the Biden-Harris administration. Mr. Austin’s visit is crucial as it comes in the midst of expectations that the U.S. is likely to deliver a message over India’s plans to acquire the Russian S-400 missile defence system in the coming months. The move could attract U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

China angle

In a clear hint to Beijing’s growing military activities in the South China Sea region, Mr. Austin said the India-U.S. defence partnership will “grow” in the coming years. “The relationship is a stronghold of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. PM Modi has stated that India stands for freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce and adherence to international law. This is a resounding affirmation of our shared vision for regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”

U.S. industry

Reflecting the American policy, Mr. Singh drew attention to the recent Leaders’ Summit of India, U.S., Japan and Australia under the Quadrilateral Framework and emphasised the collective “resolve to maintain a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region”.

He said both sides also discussed non-traditional challenges such as “oil spills and environment disasters, drug trafficking, Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishing”. He also welcomed the U.S. industry and said it should take “advantage of India’s liberalised foreign direct investment policies in the defence sector”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/india-united-states-resolve-to-intensify-defence-cooperation/article34122005.ece

‘India cannot turn a blind eye to crisis in Myanmar’ #GS2 #IR

As hundreds of Myanmarese people took shelter in Mizoram fearing a military crackdown in the neighbouring country, State Chief Minister Zoramthanga has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that “India cannot turn a blind eye” to the humanitarian crisis unfolding right in its backyard. Mr. Zoramthanga said that “political refugees” from Myanmar should be given asylum, and provided food and shelter.

He said the Ministry of Home Affairs’recent communication to deport “political refugees” was not acceptable to Mizoram. The Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military, took over the country after a coup on February 1.

In a letter dated March 18, Mr. Zoramthanga wrote to the Prime Minister, “You are aware a human catastrophe of gigantic proportions is happening in Myanmar today right in front of our eyes. The whole country is in turmoil and innocent hapless citizens are being persecuted and killed by the military regime who are supposed to be their guardians and protectors.

Mizoram shares a 510 km-long border with Myanmar, and every day terrified Myanmar citizens are struggling to cross over to Mizoram in search of shelter.” “Mizoram cannot just remain indifferent to their sufferings today.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/india-cannot-turn-a-blind-eye-to-crisis-in-myanmar/article34121975.ece

Austin raises human rights concerns #GS2 #IR

U.S. Defense Secretary General Lloyd James Austin III (Retd.) addressed the issue of human rights in India during his meetings with Cabinet Ministers. An informed source said the issue also came up during his conversation with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, which also covered a broad range of topics such as the situation in Afghanistan and the West Asian tensions.

“The Defense Secretary said as the two largest democracies in the world, human rights and values are important to us and we will lead with these values.

Earlier, addressing a select group of American and Indian media outlets, Mr. Austin said he raised the violation of human rights of the Muslims in Assam with the Indian side. “I did have a conversation with other members of the Cabinet on this issue. He, however, clarified that he “did not have an opportunity to talk to” Prime Minister Narendra Modi on reports of human rights violations targeting minority communities.

“We have to remember that India is our partner, a partner whose partnership we value. And I think partners need to be able to have those kinds of discussions. And certainly we feel comfortable doing that. And you can have those discussions in a very meaningful way and make progress.

To a question from the news channel whether the issue of erosion of democracy featured in his discussions, Mr. Austin said, “You’ve heard President Biden say human rights and rule of law are important to the U.S. We always lead with our values. As a democracy that’s pretty important to us.”

Human rights and the right to peaceful protest have featured in India’s relations with many countries, including the U.S. in recent months because of the crackdown on the protest by the farmers. Mr. Austin was asked to raise reports of violations by Chief of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Robert Menendez who emphasised that India-U.S. partnership in the 21st century must be based on “adherence to democratic values”. India, he said, “has been trending away from those values”.

Indo-Pacific issues

The Indo-Pacific also came up during the meeting with Mr. Jaishankar. The American side briefed the Indian team about the trips of Mr. Austin to Japan and South Korea where he held discussions on the region before arriving in India. Among the other regional issues, the peace process in Afghanistan featured in the meeting.

“Assessments were exchanged on the peace process and the ground situation as also the concerns and interests of regional powers and neighbours. The External Affairs Minister appreciated the Biden Administration’s engagement with India on this issue,” said the source.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/austin-raises-human-rights-concerns/article34121958.ece

‘ART not appropriate for live-in or same-sex couples’ #GS3 #SnT

Given the Indian family structure, social milieu and norms, it will not be very easy to accept a child whose parents are together but not legally married, says the 129-page report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare on the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (Regulation) Bill, 2020, submitted in Parliament earlier this week.

The committee, in its report, said that keeping the best interest of the child born through ART services and other parentage issues in case of their separation, it would not be appropriate to allow live-in couples and same sex couples to avail themselves of ART.

“The rights of people in same-sex relationship and live-in relationships frequently keep getting redefined; however, the ART Bill endorsed the recommendations of the Select Committee on Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, wherein the definition of “couple” has been retained and live-in couples and same-sex couples have been excluded from availing surrogacy services,” the Committee said in its report.

Six IVF clinics

In its observation, the committee expressed anguish over the fact there were only six IVF (in vitro fertilisation) clinics in the government sector,while the remaining thousands of IVF centres were in the private sector.

“The committee, therefore, recommends that the government should ensure that each medical college or premier Government Hospital/ Institute must have IVF/ART facilities so as to enable the common poor masses to avail the services of ART,” it said.

Stating the India had become one of the major centres for ART, the committee noted that “there are only guidelines of ART, and no law still exists.’’

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/art-not-appropriate-for-live-in-or-same-sex-couples/article34121993.ece

Indian monsoon 25 million years ago resembled present day Australia’s #GS1 #Geography

About 180 million years ago, India separated from the supercontinent Gondwana and took a long northward journey of about 9,000 km to join Eurasia. The subcontinent moved from the southern hemisphere, crossed the Equator to reach its current position. Due to these changing latitudes, it experienced different climatic conditions, and a new study has now tried to map these variations using leaf fossils.

“The evolution of the monsoonal climate in India is still debatable and not fully understood. Though recent data indicates that the monsoon system we experience now dates back to about 25 million years, it is still unclear how the climate was during its long voyage

The team analysed the morphological characters of fossil leaves collected from Deccan Volcanic Province, East Garo Hills of Meghalaya, Gurha mine in Rajasthan and Makum Coalfield in Assam. The four fossil assemblages were found to be from different geological ages and helped to study the climate during 65, 57, 54, and 25 million years ago.

It has been observed from across the globe that plant leaf morphological characters such as apex, base and shape are ecologically tuned with the prevailing climatic conditions to adapt for all the seasons throughout the year. We applied this model to characterise the past monsoon from fossil leaves,” explains Dr. Srivastava.

Fossil truths

The results indicated that the fossil leaves from India were adapted to an Australian type of monsoon and not the current Indian monsoon system during its voyage. The reconstructed temperature data show that the climate was warm (tropical to subtropical) at all the studied fossil sites with temperatures varying from 16.3–21.3 degrees C. All the fossil sites experienced high rainfall, which varied from 191.6 cm to 232 cm.

Dr. Srivastava explains that since India was the only subcontinent to have crossed from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, it is a laboratory to study biogeo changes and understand how the flora and fauna changed accordingly.

“Our future plan is to better understand the evolutionary history of Indian monsoon and its role in the evolution of biodiversity hot spots in South and Southeast Asia. This will help in the conservation of modern biodiversity hot spots. Understanding the past dynamics of Indian monsoon will also help in climate modelling for future monsoon prediction.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sci-tech-and-agri/indian-monsoon-25-million-years-ago-resembled-present-day-australias/article34121977.ece

The debate around the Places of Worship Act #GS2 #Governance

The story so far: Earlier this month, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to respond to a petition that challenges the constitutional validity of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991. The law was enacted to freeze the status of all places of worship in the country as on August 15, 1947. An exception was made to keep the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute out of its ambit as the structure was then the subject of litigation. The dispute ended after the court ruled that the land on which the Masjid stood should be handed over to the Hindu community for the construction of a Ram temple. The challenge to the Act questions the legality of the prohibition it imposes on any community laying claim to the places of worship of another.

What does the 1991 Act say?

The Act says that no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section. It contains a declaration that a place of worship shall continue to be as it was on August 15, 1947. Significantly, it prohibits any legal proceedings from being instituted regarding the character of a place of worship, and declares that all suits and appeals pending before any court or authority on the cut-off date regarding the conversion of the character of a place of worship shall abate. In other words, all pending cases will come to an end, and no further proceedings can be filed. However, any suit or proceedings relating to any conversion of status that happened after the cut-off date can continue.

The 1991 Act will not apply in some cases. It will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It will also not apply to any suit that has been finally settled or disposed of, any dispute that has been settled by the parties before the 1991 Act came into force, or to the conversion of any place that took place by acquiescence.

The Act specifically exempted from its purview the place of worship commonly referred to as Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. It was done to allow the pending litigation to continue as well as to preserve the scope for a negotiated settlement.

Anyone contravening the prohibition on converting the status of a place of worship is liable to be imprisoned for up to three years, and a fine. Those abetting or participating in a criminal conspiracy to commit this offence will also get the same punishment.

What are the grounds of challenge?

The petitioner, Ashwini Upadhyay of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), argues that the Act takes away the rights of communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains to reclaim the sites of their places of worship through legal proceedings. It amounts to taking away the right of the people to seek justice through the courts and obtain a judicial remedy. He also contends that the cut-off date of August 15, 1947, is arbitrary and irrational.

The petition contends that the legislation legalises the actions of invaders in the past who demolished places of worship. It wonders how the law could exempt the birthplace of Ram, but not that of Krishna.

It is also said the law violates the right to practise and propagate religion, as well as the right to manage and administer places of worship. Further, it goes against the principle of secularism and the state’s duty to preserve and protect religious and cultural heritage.

What has the SC said on the status freeze?

In its final verdict on the Ayodhya dispute, the Supreme Court had observed that the Act “imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism”. The court went on to say: “Non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles, of which secularism is a core component.”

The court described the law as one that preserved secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be altered after Independence. In words of caution against further attempts to change the character of a place of worship, the five-judge Bench said, “Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”

What are the implications of the case?

Some Hindu organisations have been laying claim to the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura. Civil suits have been filed in a Mathura court seeking the shifting of the 17th-century mosque from the spot that some claim is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Any order that strikes down or dilutes the 1991 law on the status of places of worship is likely to influence the outcome of such proceedings.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-miscellaneous/tp-others/the-debate-around-the-places-of-worship-act/article34121915.ece

Governing Delhi #GS2 #Governance

The story so far: The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Lok Sabha on Monday. The Bill states clarification of the expression “Government” and addressing “ambiguities” in legislative provisions as its core objectives. Underlining Delhi’s status as a Union Territory, modifications have been proposed to four sections of its three-decade-old predecessor, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991. The legislation was enacted to supplement constitutional provisions for the Legislative Assembly and a Council of Ministers for the NCT of Delhi in 1992.

What are the changes sought?

The amendments seek to promote “harmonious relations between the legislature and the executive” and provide for rules made by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi to be “consistent with the rules of the House of the People” or the Lok Sabha. The Bill also seeks to define the responsibilities of the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor along the constitutional scheme of governance of the NCT interpreted by the Supreme Court in recent judgments regarding the division of powers between the two entities.

The amendments also propose to ensure that the Lieutenant Governor is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to exercise powers entrusted to him under proviso to Clause (4) of Article 239AA of the Constitution. The clause provides for a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister for the NCT to “aid and advise the Lieutenant Governor” in the exercise of his functions for matters in which the Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws.

How did it come about?

The genesis of the Bill lies in the administrative tug of war between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Delhi government and then Delhi Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Najeeb Jung, immediately after the former came to power for the second time in 2015. The L-G refused to send files regarding three reserved subjects — land, police and public order — to the Chief Minister’s office.

Between early 2015 and mid-August 2016, several orders issued by the Delhi government related to matters such as transfer of bureaucrats, setting up of Commissions of Inquiry and the administration of the Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB), were either declared void or reversed by the L-G citing procedural lacunae ranging from lack of approval from his office to not being constitutionally empowered to take such decisions.

The issue of which entity was “the competent authority” was taken by the Delhi government to the Delhi High Court which, in August 2016, held that the L-G had “complete control” of matters related to the NCT and “nothing will happen without the concurrence of the L-G”. However, the judgment held that the L-G was bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers in some matters. The Delhi government then moved the Supreme Court.

On July 4, 2018, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the “real authority to take decisions lies in the elected government”. The NCT’s government, it also ruled, needed only to inform the L-G of its “well-deliberated” decisions instead of obtaining his “concurrence” in every issue of day-to-day governance.

On February 14, 2019, a two-judge bench hearing the issue of Services — the transfer and posting of bureaucrats — and power over the ACB delivered a split verdict. This verdict stated that while the L-G was free to form an opinion on any matter, “any” did not mean in every “trifling matter” and the L-G should not intervene routinely but only in matters fundamental to Delhi.

Two years later, on February 3, 2021, the Union Cabinet approved the Bill for introduction in Parliament during the Budget Session.

Why does it matter?

Some experts believe that the amendments will turn the administrative clock of the Capital back by several decades and take it to the era of the Delhi Metropolitan Council, which was considered a mere municipal body, and “snatch” the right of the city’s citizens to vote for those they deem fit to administer them. Other experts argue that the elected government of Delhi had always been a local administrative body to be headed by the L-G as an administrator. Experts on both sides of the argument agree that the proposed amendment has put paid to the question of statehood for Delhi, which had been demanded by major political players in the capital, including the AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. The immediate impact of the Bill will be to render void several committees created in the Delhi Legislative Assembly on administrative issues over the last six years allowing direct communication between MLAs and bureaucrats.

What lies ahead?

Terming the Bill as an instrument of the BJP-led Centre to curtail the Delhi government’s powers, the AAP has hit the streets to demand its withdrawal. It may challenge the Bill in court, according to party insiders.

However, the opposition BJP has welcomed the Bill saying the AAP government had been functioning in “unconstitutional ways”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-miscellaneous/tp-others/governing-delhi/article34121909.ece

The row over Myanmar refugees in Mizoram #GS2 #Governance

The story so far: With the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, Mizoram is caught between a humanitarian urge and India’s policy on refugees. At least 1,000 people from the adjoining Chin State of Myanmar are said to have crossed over to Mizoram, fearing a military crackdown. The Mizoram government favours providing refuge to the Chins, who are ethnically related to the majority Mizos in the State, but the Ministry of Home Affairs has made it clear that “India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol theron”.

When did the refugees start arriving?

Mizoram began feeling the heat a month after the military coup when three police personnel crossed over to Lungkawlh village in Serchhip district. Within weeks, the number increased to almost 400. According to the State Home Department, a majority of those who sought asylum were deserters from Myanmar’s police and fire services department. They had to flee after joining the civil resistance movement.

The influx of Myanmar nationals was reported from Hnahthial, Champhai, Saitual and Serchhip districts. Most of the refugees waded across the Tiau River that runs along much of Mizoram’s 510-km border with Myanmar.

Is this the first time this has happened?

Extremism, counter-insurgency and sectarian violence have driven people out of Myanmar into India in the past as well. More than 1,200 Buddhists and Christians from Myanmar’s Arakan State had taken refuge in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district in 2017. They fled their homes after the Myanmar Army clashed with the extremist Arakan Army. The refugees stayed back for more than a year. Thousands of Chins are said to be living in Mizoram for more than 40 years now.

There have been other such instances, though not on this scale. Manipur, too, has been dealing with the influx issue, although on a smaller scale, for a long time. The villages of the Kuki-Zomi have often had people crossing over from Myanmar.

How porous is the border?

Unlike India’s border with Pakistan and Bangladesh, much of the border with Myanmar is without any fence. The Assam Rifles personnel guard the border but a tough terrain comes in the way of maintaining airtight vigil.

There have been calls to fence the border. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Tapir Gao, said fencing the border would also help in checking the movement of extremist groups to and from Myanmar.

Some are against the idea, insisting that a fence would make “free movement” of border residents into each other’s country difficult. The two countries had in2018 agreed to streamline the movement of people within 16 km of the border on either side. There are more than 250 villages with about 3,00,000 people living within 10 km of the India-Myanmar border.

Where do the Centre and Mizoram stand now?

As a humanitarian gesture, the Mizoram government on February 26 issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) to Deputy Commissioners of border districts to facilitate the entry of refugees and migrants. The SOP stated that all Myanmar nationals entering Mizoram in connection with the political developments in the country shall be properly identified.

The government said those facing a threat to their lives should be treated as refugees, given medical care, relief and rehabilitation and security. But the SOP was revoked on March 6 after the Centre conveyed its displeasure to the State over the development.

On March 10, the North East Division of the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a letter to chief secretaries of Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Director General of Assam Rifles, directing them not to allow refugees from Myanmar and take appropriate action as per law. The Ministry pointed out that State governments have no powers to grant “refugee status to any foreigner”.

Mizoram is not happy about this. “They are like family … we share ethnic ties with them,” said Rajya Sabha member from Mizoram K. Vanlalvena. “We do not want the Indian government to offer them full-time citizenship or employment. The only thing we ask is to let these refugees stay until their country returns to normalcy.”

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-miscellaneous/tp-others/the-row-over-myanmar-refugees-in-mizoram/article34121917.ece