National Register of Citizens – A Concoction of Identity Crisis, Chaos & Hope?

Source: www.nenow.in

The final list of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published yesterday. It includes a total of 3,11,21,004 names, and excludes 19,06,657 others. A total of 36,26,630 claims were received by the special courts after the final draft NRC and 21,37,327 number of people have been successfully added in the final list after mass verifications.

The Government has provided legal recourse to the little more than 19 lakh people who have been excluded from the final list. Under Section 8 of the Schedule to the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens & Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, these people can appeal against their exclusion. Foreigners Tribunals (FT) have been set up in order to process these applications, with 120 days deadline set up for an application for appeal. The Foreigners’ Tribunals need to dispose of the cases within 6 months. The applicants can challenge the decision of the FT’s in High Court and the Supreme Court.

In India, citizenship is enumerated under the Union List. The NRC is the register which contains the names of all Indian citizens. The first and only time when the NRC was properly prepared was in 1951, after the first census of India. Basically, the NRC is now concentrated on the state of Assam due to the increasing number of irregular migrants from Bangladesh pouring in. 

The two main legislations which govern the process of updating and compiling the NRC are the Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity cards) Rules, 2003. In 2018, the NRC had been updated to include the names of the people who come under the Section 6A of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 stipulates the provisions for citizenship of people covered under the Assam Accord. 

According to Section 6A, all those who came to Assam on or after 1 January, 1966, but before 25th March, 1971 from the specified territory (“specified territory” means the territories included in Bangladesh immediately before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985) and since then are residents of Assam, must register themselves for citizenship. This section thus fixes 25th March 1971 as the cut-off date for ascertaining the citizenship of persons. 

The process of updating the NRC was started in 2013. On 30th July 2018, the First Draft of the updated NRC was published. According to the first draft 2,89,83,677 people were included in the NRC, thus leaving a total of 40,70,707 people as ineligible for inclusion. Those people who were excluded from the First Draft NRC had the chance to appeal to the special courts that had been set up for this process before the publication of the Final Draft NRC on August 31, 2019.

However, the August 31, 2019 NRC list has thrown up more questions than answers regarding the issue which has wreaked havoc in the lives of people staying in Assam.

 The biggest question that the final list NRC has thrown up is related to the number of people excluded from the list. With the number a shade above 19 lakhs, and with the distinct possibility of this number going down due to the appeals in the FT’s as well as the High Court and the Supreme Court, some pertinent questions come to mind.

1) Did the NRC really achieve its objective of detecting, verifying and deporting irregular migrants to Bangladesh ?

2) Did the NRC leave out many genuine Indian citizens and instead has included irregular migrants from Bangladesh? 

2) What will be the status of the 19 lakhs people excluded from the list till the time being a decision is given by the courts? This process is, at the very least, going to take 10 months if all procedures and timelines are duly followed. 

3) What will be the status of the people who have been rejected by the tribunals after the final draft NRC? These people will be placed in detention centres for possible deportation. However, such detention centres have also been running for years without any possibility of them shutting down. 

The NRC process has been long drawn, error-strewn and controversial. The results of the final list NRC have threatened to send years of hard work, protests, and the local peoples’ objective of a foreigner-free Assam down the drain.

Till the time the appeals process is completed through all the legal avenues, more irregular migrants are going to enter Assam and the North-East. Lack of sufficient border control measures and the chaos surrounding the entire NRC process would be a perfect opportunity for more and more irregular migrants to come to other North-East Indian states and from there to all over India. The process after the final list NRC is going to be a complicated and long drawn one. With issues such as re-verification, voter identities, appeals, land holding rights and originality for the traditional Assamese people, there seems to be no end in sight for the process and moreover a lack of confidence in a fair and correct NRC.

Kunal Tilak

Kunal Tilak is a lawyer specialising in International Relations, Law & Security. He is a Co-Founder of The Tilak Chronicle.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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