Nation needs NRC, Centre tells SC

Long process:People standing in a queue in Assam to check their names on the final NRC in August 2019.File photo/afp

Long process:People standing in a queue in Assam to check their names on the final NRC in August 2019.File photo/afp  

‘It is a necessary exercise to identify the citizens from the non-citizens’

More than a month after the Centre informed the Lok Sabha that no decision had been taken to prepare the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Union Home Ministry filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Tuesday stating that preparation of NRC is a “necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens.”

The Ministry submitted before the court that it was the responsibility entrusted with the Central government “to identify/detect illegal migrants and thereafter, follow the due process of law”.

Unfettered discretion

The affidavit added that the Foreigners Act, 1946, conferred upon the government the power to expel foreigners from India.

“It vests the Central government with absolute and unfettered discretion, and as there is no provision fettering this discretion in the Constitution, an unrestricted right to expel remains,” the affidavit said.

Vociferous opposition

More than a dozen States have vociferously opposed the updating of National Population Register (NPR), slated to begin on April 1 along with the house listing phase of the Census. According to Citizenship Rules 2003, NPR is the first step towards the compilation of the NRC.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 passed by Parliament on December 11, allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

The exact number of people the CAA will benefit are not known, but Home Minister Amit Shah had told the Rajya Sabha on December 11 that “lakhs and crores” will benefit. For the first time, the MHA, through the affidavit in Supreme Court, has indicated what these numbers could be like. In the affidavit, the Ministry submitted a report by the then Ministry of Rehabilitation for the year 1964-65 on the “new influx of members of minority communities from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura which began in January 1964” and “assumed formidable proportions in the months of March, April and May, 1964.”

The report states that the number of persons who migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan till 31 January, 1965 was 8,94,137. “Out of the said persons, 2,61,899 came with migration certificates, while 1,76,602 came with Pakistani passport and Indian visas. Approximately 4,55,636 persons came without any travel documents,” the affidavit said.

There are fears that the CAA, followed by a country-wide NRC, will benefit non-Muslims excluded from the citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship. The government has denied that CAA and NRC are linked.

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