The Home Ministry’s controversial directive to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) Secretariat in Assam, to issue ‘rejection slips’ to a section of the people delisted from the register, does not appear to conform to the laws and procedures laid down for the completion of the exercise.
The Home Ministry wants the Secretariat to issue ‘rejection slips’ to people left out of the register whose cases are ‘correct’, and cases where there was a ‘mismatch’ between the details recorded in hard and soft copies, and are to be referred to the deputy commissioners of the respective districts for clarification.
Rejection slips spell out the reason of rejection from the NRC. Without the slip, nobody would be able to approach the Foreigners Tribunals for making a claim to be considered for inclusion in the register.
Nearly two million people were delisted from the NRC which was completed on 31 August 2019. The project was executed by the Registrar General of India (RGI) under the Home Ministry, and monitored by the Supreme Court.
The NRC Secretariat is reluctant to obey the Home Ministry’s directive to issue the slip as the RGI has not yet issued any notification accepting the NRC. So the NRC that was published is not a final document, but only a ‘supplementary list of inclusions and exclusions’.
In 2020, the Home Ministry had also submitted an affidavit before the Supreme Court, seeking permission to allow the delisted people to appeal before the Foreigners Tribunals without waiting for the publication of the final NRC. The plea has not been heard by the apex court so far.
Procedure For NRC
The above anomalies notwithstanding, the Home Ministry’s order also does not appear to be in sync with some norms and procedures laid down by the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003 for the update of the NRC in Assam.
Clause 4(3) of the Rules lays down that the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration has the powers to verify the names ‘considered necessary’ before the final publication of the NRC. These officials would have to take ‘special care’ in attending to the allegations of ‘undue harassment’, and their reports are to be examined by the District Registrar of Citizen Registration.
Therefore, till the final NRC is published, the result cannot be locked as there may be changes due to the verification by the local officials. And till the register is locked through a final notification by the RGI, the rejection slips cannot be issued.
Clause 7 of the Rules says that the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration shall prepare and publish a supplementary list for inclusion or deletion of names as the case may be after disposal of claims and objections. Subsequently, the Registrar General of Citizens Registration will publish the final NRC in the state of Assam.
The Home Ministry’s directive has asked the NRC Secretariat to implement Clause 8 of the Rules, which stipulates that anybody not satisfied with the decisions of the claims and objections enumerated in the previous clause may appeal before the Foreigners Tribunals.
A section of officials in the Assam government is of the firm opinion that Clause 8 of the Rules cannot be implemented without completing the exercise laid down in Clause 7 for the NRC which explains the decision by the NRC Secretariat to reject the directive from the Home Ministry.
Was the Home Minister’s Decision ‘Ignored’?
A meeting convened at the capital on 20 September 2020 — between Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma — resolved that a fresh appeal would be made to the Supreme Court for 20 percent sample re-verification of names in the NRC in the districts bordering Bangladesh, and 10 percent sample re-verification of names in the rest of the districts. It was decided that the Centre would support the state government’s affidavit after it had been submitted.
“It is unlikely that Home Minister Shah, who was in full support of the Assam government’s proposal to identify the foreign nationals in the NRC, would make an about-turn and grant approval to the ministry’s idea of issuing rejection slips,” said an official of Assam’s home and political department, on condition of anonymity,
The Assam government had rejected the NRC within weeks of its publication two years ago, citing the reason that many ineligible persons had enrolled their names while genuine Indian citizens were left out from the database. Incidentally, all these anomalies in the register were also brought to the notice of the RGI by NRC Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma in 2020, but there was no response.
Clearly, all these developments point to the inescapable conclusion that the Home Ministry and RGI want to wash its hands off the NRC.
Another bombshell was dropped last month when the RGI informed the Assam government that no funds would be provided for the NRC exercise beyond 31 March 2021.
The RGI had written the letter in response to the state government’s request for an additional requirement of Rs 3.22 crore per month for the next financial year, to complete the pending work of the NRC. So far, about Rs 1600 crore has been spent in the project that was initiated in 2013, following an order from the Supreme Court.
(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. He tweets @rajkbhat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)