Hiring of one Software Developer at Publications Division Headquarters, New Delhi on contract. || Subscribe print version with complimentary e-version @Rs.530 per annum; Subscribe only e-version @Rs.400 per annum. || !! ATTENTION ADVERTISERS !! Advertisers are requested to give full details of job Vacancies/ Minimum size will now be 200 sq.cm for shorter advertisements || Click here to become an e-resource aggregator of Publications Division || New Advertisement Policy || ||

Editorial Articles


volume-39,29 December 2018-4 January

NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS and Its SIGNIFICANCE

Arun Khurana &

Dr. P. C. Sinha

T he National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a record of all the legal citizens of the country. It was basically a serialized list of houses and property holdings in every Indian village with the number of people residing in them along with their names. The Government then instructed the records to be stored in the offices of the Deputy Commissioners and Sub-Divisional Officers. Later the data were collected in 1960s by NRC data was handed over the police. In 1980s, demands slowly began to rise about the updating in the State of Assam. The primary reason was that natives began to feel that illegal foreigners were dominating their land, leading to a protest movement in Assam. In other words, NRC is a list of Indian citizens which is meant to decide who is a bonafide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants. First list was made in 1951 across India according to the census of that year. It is for the first time that it is being updated and that too only in Assam. Now, it is not linked to census but one has to link oneself to a family member whose name had appeared either in the NRC of 1951, or to any of the state's electoral rolls prepared till midnight of 24th March, 1971. The year of 1971 is chosen, as it was agreed in Assam Accord 1985.If the applicant's name is not on any of these lists, he can produce any of the 12 other documents dated up to March 24, 1971, like: land or tenancy record; citizenship certificate; or permanent residential certificate; or passport or court records; or refugee registration certificate. All the names appearing in the NRC, 1951, or any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March 1971 together are called "Legacy Data". Thus, there are two requirements for inclusion in updated NRC, existence of a person's name in the pre-1971 period and providing linkage with that person. The two provisions governing NRC update in Assam are 'The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

The fact remains that the demands to update the 'NRC of 1951' were first raised by the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Parishad more than three decades ago. The aforementioned organizations had submitted a memorandum to the Centre on January 18, 1980, two months after launching the 'Anti-illegal Foreigners Assam Movement'. On November 17, 1999, at an official-level tripartite meeting to review the implementation of the 'Assam Accord', a decision was taken that the NRC would be updated and the Centre sanctioned Rs 20 lakh for the purpose and released Rs 5 lakh of it to start the exercise. Later, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led government took the final decision to update NRC on May 5, 2005. Thereafter, the Government created a Directorate for updating the NRC and the process of computerization of the voters' list up to 1971 and that of the NRC of 1951 began.

NRC Process: Objectives and Implications for Future

The preparation of NRC is the most extensive citizen engaging exercise, which touches the life of every resident of Assam. It is part of the action for the fulfilment of the 'Assam Accord' and understanding arrived in a tripartite meeting held in 2005. The National Register of Citizens (NRC), Assam, will contain the names of genuine Indian citizens and will help the government to check illegal immigration. The publication of the first draft of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam by the Office of the State Coordinator of NRC on December 31, 2017, is an important milestone in dealing with the influx of illegal migrants, particularly from Bangladesh into that state.

The objective behind updating and publishing the 1951 NRC is to compile a list of the names of genuine Indian citizens residing in Assam and, in the process, detect foreigners, particularly Bangladeshis, who may have illegally entered the state after March 24, 1971. As per the final draft NRC list, published on July 30, 2018, of the 3.29 crore residents of Assam who applied for the inclusion of their names in the NRC by submitting legacy documents, 2.89 crore names have been included as citizens in the initial list. The names of 40,70,707 people did not figure in the list. Of these, 37,59,630 names have been rejected and the remaining 2,48,077 are on hold and have got a "D-voter" tag, implying, short for 'dubious' or 'doubtful. This is a category of voters disenfranchised by the government for lack of proper citizenship documents. D-voters are tried by special tribunals under the Foreigners' Act and if they fail to defend their citizenship claim, they are marked as declared foreigners and sent to any of six detention camps, which are within jails for criminals, for deportation. There were 91,206 declared foreigners as on December 31, 2017. The final list containing the names of all Indian citizens in Assam is expected to be published by the end of December 2018, after the disposal of all claims and objections in final registers at various levels.

Due to inherent political considerations and complicated issues involed, various successive Governments have been reluctant to update the 'NRC of 1951' in the past. The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India took up the matter in earnestness when the issue was brought before it. In the course of hearing a clutch of writ petitions filed by various parties, especially the one by Assam Public Works, an NGO, in July 2009, in which it had prayed for the deletion of illegal voters from the voters' list of Assam and sought for updating the NRC as part of that process. The Supreme Court instructed Central and State Governments to begin the process of updating of the NRC in Assam. Accordingly, the Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice, issued the notification for starting the work of updating the NRC and appointed Mr. Prateek Hajela on January 28, 2014, as the State Coordinator for the NRC. In addition, the Supreme Court constituted a 'Committee' to take care of any clarification that would be required with regard to the modalities in the preparation of the NRC. Initially, the date for publication of the final draft of the NRC was set as on or before January 1, 2016. But upon the request of the State Coordinator, the Court agreed to extend the deadline by two years more.

Impact of NRC Draft Report

As anticipated by many, the publication of the first draft didn't lead to any untoward incident/protests. However, it has raised serious apprehensions in the minds of those whose names have not figured in the list, particularly in such cases where only some of the names of the members of a single family have appeared on the list while others' did not. The fact remains that the hope surrounding their names might appear in the next list, has kept them from protesting against the NRC. Given the fact that a proper documentation system has not been in existence in the country in this regard, for most of those whose names have not appeared in the NRC list, procuring the required documents, especially the birth certificates, in order to prove their relationships with persons whose names have appeared in the legacy documents and thus establish their legal citizenship rights, is undoubtedly fraught with difficulties. This is more so in the case of those very many settlers who came to Assam from other parts of the country. So far, only 1.5 lakh of the 5.5 lakh documents sent out for verification have been reportedly returned by other State Governments. Given these hurdles, and  delays, it is to be seen that when the next iteration of the list would be published; how many names appear therein.

 Other Remaining Issues with the NRC

An important issue which needs to be addressed is that what will happen to those people whose names do not figure in the final NRC and are declared illegal entrants into the State of Assam.

NRC and Other Possible Upcoming Challenges

.  Language Issue

. The language of the Bangladeshis is different from what is spoken in Assam and Tripura. During the partition, the people of East Pakistan were given the option and some of them did not take that option. After that, too, they got the chance in 1965 and 1971. They did not come in then. So, why now? Now at the rate at which they have come, the Assamese people have become a minority.

Conflict with Citizenship Bill

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, was introduced in the Lok Sabha to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, and raises several issues:

It makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship based on their religion.

The bill has potentially interesting implications for asymmetric federalism. One of the proposals under consideration is to exempt Assam from the purview of the bill while making it applicable to the rest of India.

CONCLUSION

The publication of an updated NRC is indeed a positive step, as it puts to rest the wild speculations about the extent of the illegal migrant population in Assam, and the resultant polarization. While the NRC is being updated for Assam, there is no plan to prepare similar NRCs for the other States in the North-East India where also illegal migration continues to be a volatile issue. The need of the hour, therefore, is to allay all apprehensions presently in the minds of the people of Assam and take necessary steps to contain any adverse fallout after the publication of the final draft of the NRC. The Union Government has said the NRC exercise has been carried out in a totally objective, transparent and meticulous manner and a mechanism to deal with the grievances in a fair and objective manner is already in place. The complete draft NRC-Assam has been published on 30th July this year and the Supreme Court is monitoring the progress of NRC and the process of claims and objections on the draft NRC has started on 25th September this year and will remain open up to 31st of this month. The verification process will commence from 15th February next year in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court.

(Arun Khurana is Founder/ Director, Social Responsi-bility Council (SRC) & Dr. P. C. Sinha is Chief Advisor, Social Responsibility Council (SRC) e-mail: info@srcouncil.in)

Views expressed are personal