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Assam’s NRC-excluded wait anxiously six months after publication of final list

Ordeal continues: NRC officials verifying documents at a centre in Morigaon district of Assam.

Ordeal continues: NRC officials verifying documents at a centre in Morigaon district of Assam.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Six months after they found their names missing from the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC), more than 19 lakh people in Assam are anxiously awaiting their chance to be back in the list.

 

The final draft of the NRC published on August 31, 2019, had excluded 19,06,657 out of 3.3 crore applicants for lack of proper documents to establish that they have been living in Assam before March 25, 1971, the cut-off date for detecting and deporting foreigners or illegal immigrants.

This date was prescribed by the Assam Accord of August 1985, ending six years of a violent agitation for ejection of non-citizens.

Petition in SC

“The All Assam Minority Students’ Union and the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind had ten days ago filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking photo identity card for those included in the NRC and the immediate start of the process of appealing for possible inclusion by those excluded,” Guwahati-based rights activist A.B. Khandakar told The Hindu on Sunday.

After receiving notice from the NRC authority, each excluded person will have 120 days to file an appeal at any of the existing 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) — 200 more are in the pipeline — which in turn will have to dispose of the cases within six months. The appellant then has the option of approaching higher courts.

 

“The anxiety of the excluded people is increasing by the day. These are mostly poor people who spent beyond their means to prove their citizenship and the delay in starting the appealing phase is taking a lot out of them,” said a member of a group that helped poor and illiterate people fill up NRC forms in western Assam’s Barpeta district.

The Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise cost the government at least ₹1,600 crore. But people in Assam, rights groups said, spent more than ₹7,800 crore on collecting documents and attending hearings in faraway places. The process also claimed at least 60 lives, some killed in road mishaps.

High expectations

Expectations were high when Hitesh Dev Sarma took charge as the NRC State Coordinator in December 2019, replacing Prateek Hajela, who was transferred to Madhya Pradesh by the apex court.

The NRC authority had in mid-February allowed the release of most of the 55,000 Assam government officials who had been engaged in the updating exercise for more than five years. The release was on “various grounds like superannuation or transfer with the promotion”. All the district heads were notified for assigning new officers in their place after training them suitably in NRC work.

 

But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government indicated that the process of sending notices to the excluded could wait until the entire list is re-verified to make it error-free. The BJP said the re-verification was needed to weed out “Bangladeshis”, primarily Bengali-speaking Muslims.

An NGO named Assam Public Works followed it up by filing a petition in the apex court seeking 100% re-verification of the NRC exercise. The NGO’s petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 had led to the process of updating the 1951 NRC in the State.

‘Awaiting direction’

The NRC authorities said the decks were being cleared for starting the process of sending notices to the excluded. “But we are wary of the petitions in the Supreme Court, whose observations could impact the next step. Besides, there is no clarity on what to do with the excluded people who are likely to be the beneficiaries of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act,” said a college teacher who handled the NRC work.

 

The Assam government is also awaiting SC’s nod for the next course of action. “We are ready to set up 200 FTs, but we cannot proceed unless there is a direction from the apex court,” Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

The Gauhati High Court had in September announced a list of 221 members who will head the quasi-judicial FTs. The government has been paying them salaries since.

Similar is the case with the Electronic FT, or e-FT, that will have the details of illegal migrants, their biometrics and legacy data to be made available to the regular FTs and other agencies.

“We will start functioning when the NRC office starts giving notices,” said Anand Prakash Tiwari, the CEO of the Electronic Foreigners Tribunal Mission Directorate formed in mid-2019.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 11:30:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/assams-nrc-excluded-wait-anxiously-six-months-after-publication-of-final-list/article30957931.ece

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