Assam NRC Final Draft: A Démarche on the Way Forward is Essential

What is to become of those designated as ‘foreigners’, who have to continue to fight for their identity?

5 min read
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There has been strong criticism in national and international media, against perceived Assamese chauvinism and sub-nationalism, with people from all over the world agitating against the human rights violations in Assam as part of the National Registrar of Citizens (NRC).

A communal colour has been given to the issue, particularly owing to the pending Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2006, and allegations of procedural discrimination from the ground.

However, the issues we are grappling with are far too nuanced to simplify into simple good-bad binaries. While there is room for debate regarding the implementation and possible way forwards, it is essential that one understands the ground realities.


Those Who are in NRC & Those Who Aren’t

It is indeed a fact that the over the past seventy (70) years, the demographics of the lower and central Brahmaputra valley has changed significantly, threatening the very linguistic and cultural fabric of indigenous and Assamese peoples. The example of Tripura is too fresh, and too close.

One way of looking at the NRC update which was directed and is being monitored by the Supreme Court of India, is that finally there will be a determination of the number of illegal immigrants in Assam. Currently there is no firm figure for illegal immigrants. Over time, the Union Government has provided contradictory figures in this regard in Parliament.

There are certain categories of people who are eligible for being included in the NRC, such as but not limited to:

  1. Persons whose names appear in NRC, 1951;
  2. Persons whose names appear in any of the electoral rolls up to 24 March; (midnight), 1971;
  3. Descendants of the above persons;
  4. Persons who came to Assam on or after 1 January 1966 but before 25 March 1971, and registered themselves in accordance with the rules made by the Central Government with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority.

The final draft of the NRC was published on 30 July 2018.

40, 07,717 people were excluded, and 2,89,83,677 people were included out of 3.29 crore applicants. Prateek Hajela, NRC State Coordinator, said that out of these 40 lakh people, applications of 2.48 lakh people are kept on “hold” who belong to the following four categories:

  1. (Doubtful) D-voters,
  2. descendants of D-voters (those who are descendants of D voters),
  3. people whose cases are pending at Foreigners Tribunals,
  4. descendants of these persons.

The Present Situation

The state coordinator had informed the Supreme Court on 2 July 2018 that 1.15 lakh who were included in the first draft, will now be excluded from the final draft, and will be served a Letter of Information within seven days of publication of the final draft. This number includes 65,694 cases which were earlier found to be matched at the office level, and were discovered to be false during the Family Tree investigation.

48,456 cases of married women (who were included in the first draft), based on the submission of panchayat certificates as linkage documents, have been found inadmissible, on re-verification of the hearing conducted for Gaon Panchayat Secretary Certificate verification. 19,783 persons who were found ineligible after ‘quality control exercise’ to rectify errors committed at the field level.

It is to be noted that those whose names are not in the final draft of NRC released on 30 July 2018, will be given an opportunity to file a claim for inclusion.

The Union Government has assured that no coercive action will be taken against the people who did not feature in the final draft. Further, they can file their claims and objections, and there will be no deportation or curtailment of any rights of these people.Further, there are several outstanding issues that either require resolution or quietus, for the NRC to be conclusive. First, there are several constitutional and legal issues pending before a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India. The hearings are yet to commence.

In 2014, vide its judgment dated 17 December 2014, in Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors, the Supreme Court was pleased to refer important questions of law to a Constitution Bench. Out of the outstanding issues, the decision on the following two issues will have a bearing on the NRC:

  1. Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Act should be struck down, as it prescribes a different cut-off date for Assam ie, 24 March 1971;
  2. Whether citizenship should be granted to children of illegal immigrants born in India, as they will otherwise be assumed to be citizens of India by way of birth

What’s to Become of these ‘Foreigners’?

Second, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 (now pending before a Joint Parliamentary Committee) provides a fast track pathway to obtain citizenship (by naturalisation in seven years instead of the existing twelve years) to persons belonging to the minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The Bill is being widely opposed in Assam and Meghalaya.

Be that as it may, what is rather disquieting is that there is no clarity on how those who will finally be detected as ‘foreigners’ will be treated.

‘Deportation’ is what the Prime Minister had promised in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. It will not be incorrect to say that the 2016 assembly elections were won by the BJP by pitching this emotive issue using the allegory of the ‘Last Battle of Saraighat’.

However today, both the central and state governments have virtually eschewed attempts at mass deportation as an impossible task. Truth be told, the pathway to deportation is lengthy, and shrouded in processes that renders it virtually ineffective. In the absence of a bilateral agreement, it presupposes that the government of Bangladesh will acknowledge the identified persons (alleged foreigners) as Bangladeshi citizens.


A Human Rights Crisis

There have been recent media reports suggesting that the Union Home Ministry is considering a proposal to provide long-term biometric work permits, with no political rights or the right to own immovable property, to those declared as foreigners. At the same time, a fresh sanction has been given to build a stand-alone detention camp. About 2,000 detected illegal immigrants including D-voters are currently being held in Assam’s six detention centres located at Goalpara, Kokrajhar, Silchar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Tezpur.

This raises significant human rights concerns – can we envisage lakhs of men, women and children being kept in a perpetual purgatory? The answer is a resounding NO.

It is important and essential to address the decades-old festering angst in Assam about illegal immigrants/foreigners. It is equally important and essential for the union government to proactively come out with an equitable, predictable and transparent plan on the way forward, for those who will be identified as ‘foreigners’. Leaving a vacuum and passing the buck to the Supreme Court on this one will be irresponsible, and provide further fodder for the discontent brewing in Assam.

Follow all live updates on this story here.

(Krishna Sarma is Managing Partner, Corporate Law Group, New Delhi. She has been dealing with issues such as that of the NRC since 2001, as the State of Assam’s lawyer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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