A year after the publication of the complete National Register of Citizens (NRC) , the fate of 19,06,657 people excluded from the updated list in Assam continues to hang in the balance.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the floods in between have been blamed for the delay in the process of issuing rejection slips to each of the excluded, citing the reasons why they were left out.
“Rejection slips cannot be issued until COVID-19 is brought under control. Many NRC officers are on COVID-19 duty and there are very few to do quality check,” State NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma said, negating the possibility of issuing such slips online.
According to the Centre’s standard operating procedures, a rejected person would have 120 days from the date of receiving the rejection slip to approach a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) for judging their citizenship status.
“The NRC authority had said work would resume from September 1 after asking the district heads to ensure laptops and Internet facility for officials handling the process. We hope the pandemic will soon cease to be an excuse for keeping the process in a limbo,” said Kamal Chakraborty of the Unconditional Citizenship Demand Committee in southern Assam’s Silchar.
Some stakeholders have sniffed a political design in keeping the issue of “illegal migrants” burning for “yet another election”. The Congress, which had started the NRC process, slammed the BJP for delaying the process after the complete list left out many non-Muslims.
“The government has hushed up NRC that was once their main issue. The BJP’s hidden agenda has been exposed after the exclusion of many Bengali Hindus who were flattered to deceive. The list did not go their way and they want the issue to linger for political mileage,” State Congress president Ripun Bora said.
“We don’t think the Centre will do anything before the Assembly election . It did nothing despite several guidelines from the Supreme Court, showing it is not serious about the NRC or the future of Assam’s indigenous people and genuine Indians. The NRC could have ensured a permanent solution to the issue of illegal immigration,” said AASU general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi.
The AASU has also resented the delay in setting up 200 new FTs sanctioned for handling the cases of the NRC rejects. The government had appointed 221 members (judge-like status) for these FTs in August 2019 and their one-year term is unlikely to be extended.
The BJP put the onus on the Supreme Court. “No organisation in Assam is happy with the NRC list and a petition is pending in the apex court for re-verification of at least 10% of the names in districts where demographic changes have been drastic. We are waiting for the Supreme Court’s guidance,” the party’s spokesperson Rupam Goswami said.
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“How can you accept this NRC that has included the names of illegal Bangladeshis? We have petitioned for 100% re-verification of names, but with the involvement of corrupt officials and the government’s negligence, it seems no one wants a solution,” said APW president Aabhijeet Sharma.
“The Centre has clarified that the rejected people remain Indian citizens until their cases are settled. They cannot be deprived of their voting and other rights although there are reports of a few people being denied passports,” said Aman Wadud, an advocate who has fought for people declared foreigners by the FTs.
Hafiz Rashid Ahmed Choudhury, chairman of the Bar Council of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, said the NRC had no legal validity until the Registrar General of India issued a gazette notification confirming the list.
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‘A waste paper’
“Because the NRC has not taken any legal shape, they cannot issue rejection order and no person can file an appeal. In its present form, the NRC is basically a ₹1,600 crore waste paper that drove many to suicide, made thousands of poor people poorer and be in perpetual fear of being ejected from their homes,” he said.
The demand for updating the NRC of 1951 was first raised in 1980 during the anti-foreigners Assam Agitation spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). A 2009 petition before the Supreme Court by the NGO, Assam Public Works (APW), led to the updating exercise through a notification in December 2013.
The complete NRC was published on August 31, 2019, after some 55,000 officials sifted the applications of 3.3 crore people across 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras on the basis of documents to establish them as residents of Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971 — the cut-off date for determining citizenship according to the Assam Accord of 1985.