In open letter, 106 retired civil servants rebut Centre on NPR-NRC-CAA link
A group of around 100 retired civil servants released an open letter on Thursday, asking people to insist that the government withdraw recent amendments to the Citizenship Act and scrap the plan to build an all-India National Register of Citizens.
The retired civil servants, who have come together under the aegis of the Constitutional Conduct Group, also countered the government’s latest effort to delink the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the ongoing National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). “The three issues are linked,” it said in the open letter designed to “acquaint people with the facts” and “emphasise why these measures need to be resolutely opposed”.
The open letter has the names of 106 retired civil servants, including around 25 former secretaries to the central government. The list of signatories includes three former foreign secretaries, Shyam Saran, Shiv Shankar Menon and Sujatha Singh; former Indian ambassador to the UK Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, former telecom regulator Rahul Khullar, former chief of Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) Meeran C Borwankar; former Asian Development Bank executive director PK Lahiri; former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar; former chief economic adviser Nitin Desai; former central information commissioner (CIC) Wajahat Habibullah; former Delhi Lt Governor Najeeb Jung; and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Harsh Mander.
Nalin Kohli, a spokesperson of the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said, “This is not the first time that such a group, including many who have repeatedly written such letters, has opposed something by the BJP government. Under the Constitution, they have a right to express their points of view, but when it becomes a serial exercise on a regular basis, one wonders about the motive and whether it can be treated as neutral.”
The government’s passage of CAA, which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan has provoked protests across India. In the North-east, most of the protests have been caused by fears that the law will legitimise the claims of outsiders in these states. In other parts of the country, there are fears that CAA will be used along with an NRC, which would affect Muslims without the requisite paperwork in a country where most people have very poor paperwork. Others have objected to the exclusionary nature of the law, saying it goes against the letter of the Constitution.
This is not the first letter issued by the group. Since 2018, the group has written open letters on a range of issues — from custodial killings to the release of biopics of political leaders during elections, and from the submission of reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal by the government’s audit watchdog CAG to the use of paper trails in Electronic Voting Machines.
Both NPR and NRIC are unnecessary and wasteful exercises, the retired bureaucrats said, predicting that these would cause hardship to the public and entail expenditure better spent on schemes benefiting the poor.
The group also warned that they would constitute an invasion of the citizens “right to privacy”, since a lot of information, including Aadhaar, mobile numbers and voter IDs will be listed in a document, with scope for misuse.
They also asked the government to withdraw the Foreigners (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019, that empowers district magistrates to set up tribunals and is the precursor to a widespread exercise to identify “illegal migrants”.
“The experience with Foreigners’ Tribunals in Assam has been, to put it bluntly, traumatic for those at the receiving end. After running the gamut of gathering documents and answering objections to their citizenship claims, “doubtful citizens” have also had to contend with these tribunals, the composition and functioning of which were highly discretionary and arbitrary,” the open letter said.
The former civil servants added: “We are apprehensive that the vast powers to include or exclude a person from the Local Register of Indian Citizens that is going to be vested in the bureaucracy at a fairly junior level has the scope to be employed in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, subject to local pressures and to meet specific political objectives, not to mention the unbridled scope for large-scale corruption”.
“The provisions of the CAA, coupled with rather aggressive statements over the past few years from the highest levels of this government, rightly cause deep unease in India’s Muslim community, which has already faced discrimination and attacks on issues ranging from allegations of love jihad to cattle smuggling and beef consumption,” the letter stated, adding “That the Muslim community has had to face the brunt of police action in recent days only in those states where the local police is controlled by the party in power at the centre only adds credence to the widespread feeling that the NPR-NRIC exercise could be used for selective targeting of specific communities and individuals”.
Questioning the constitutional validity of CAA, the bureaucrats stated that it is “morally indefensible”.
They also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the home minister Amit Shah giving out contradictory information regarding NRC.
“Above all, we see a situation developing where India is in danger of losing international goodwill and alienating its immediate neighbours, with adverse consequences for the security set-up in the sub-continent. India also stands to lose its position as a moral beacon guiding many other countries on the path to liberal democracy,” the letter added.