Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee has weighed in on the controversy over the amended citizenship law that fast-tracks the process of giving citizenship to persecuted non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries. Mr Banerjee, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics with wife Esther Duflo and economist Michael Kremer last year, in a conversation with Dr Prannoy Roy says “we need to be extremely careful in designing institutions to make decisions that can have massive consequences” for people.
“I think, there are all kinds of issues there… Let me say one thing which worries me from my experience of doing field work, is that when you have somebody with an enormous amount of power, the guy who decides whether or not you will be on this list or that list… and so if he’s going to say look ‘I’m not sure that you’re a proper citizen’ and forget about religion…” Mr Banerjee said.
“Many things you could be worried about. I’m just saying that – that’s one thing. If I were somebody living in a border district, I’d be petrified by that thought and even if I were – you know just the fact that somebody will come and say ‘look I’m in charge of making this list I could put doubtful next to your name’ – I mean after all it is a border district. Or I could not. And maybe you could pay me ten thousand rupees,” the Nobel laureate said, adding, “I mean the governance challenge there is very significant.”
On whether there’s too much governance and the power to decide things in the hands of an individual, Mr Banerjee said, “I’m at least as worried about everything else. Just abuse of power in general seems to me… We should worry about creating structures of the state where people on one side you have so much to lose if you’re not a citizen of India and no other country wants you… I think at that point creating power structures which make you so vulnerable means you are – you could be extorted in many different ways. I do think as a governance problem it’s a very frightening one.”
“Power to some people to take decisions that can have massive consequences for your life… We need to be extremely careful in designing institutions to make those decisions. They should not be made by kind of quick acts of parliament. That’s the worry,” he said.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act for the first time makes religion the test of citizenship in India. The government says it will help minorities from three Muslim-dominated countries to get citizenship if they fled to India before 2015 because of religious persecution. Critics say it is designed to discriminate against Muslims and violates the secular principles of the constitution.