Guwahati: Amid a debate on the finality of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, state NRC Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma has told the Gauhati High Court that 4,795 “ineligible” persons have made it to the list, which he also said is not “final”.
Published on 31 August 2019, the final NRC had excluded 19.22 lakh people out of nearly 3.3 crore applicants — 6 per cent of the state population.
In a 148-page affidavit filed on 3 December, Sarma said some district registrars of citizens registration (DRCRs) “formally requested” for a change in the results of NRC with “proper reasons” after publication of the list.
“Altogether 10,199 formal requests were received from DRCRs to change the results of NRC. Out of 10,199 people, a total of 5,404 numbers were from changing result from Reject to Accept, and a total of 4,795 numbers were for changing result from ‘Accept’ to ‘Reject’,” the affidavit read. ThePrint has accessed a copy of it.
While 1,032 ineligible persons are either ‘Declared Foreigners’, or ‘Doubtful Voters’ or persons having cases ‘Pending at Foreigners Tribunal’ and their descendants, another 3,763 persons have been found ineligible for “other reasons”.
On 13 October, the NRC coordinator had written to all deputy commissioners and DRCRs to submit the list of ineligible persons.
According to Sarma’s affidavit, the discrepancies in the list were reported to the Registrar General of India (RGI) in February, seeking directions for corrective measures. However, the central body has not yet issued directions over the anomalies reported, but has instead provided instructions for issuing rejection slips and winding up the NRC updation process, said Sarma.
“The RGI is silent on the publication of the final NRC, for which it is the only authority to take action, and till date the final NRC is yet to be published…” Sarma added in the affidavit.
The NRC was published by the office of the state coordinator under the supervision of the Supreme Court as “final” on 31 August, 2019. However, the RGI is yet to notify it as the final NRC.
ThePrint reached Sarma through calls for a comment but he didn’t respond.
How the affidavit came about
The latest move came after the Gauhati High Court issued a directive to the state NRC coordinator on 19 October to file a “comprehensive affidavit” to bring on record the situations of people who have been wrongfully included in the NRC.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Rahima Begam alias Rahima Khatun of Nalbari district claiming that she cannot be considered a foreigner as her name has appeared in the final NRC. Rahima was declared a foreigner by the Foreigners’ Tribunal in Nalbari in November last year.
According to Sarma’s affidavit, Rahima’s name should not have been included in the NRC as there was a proceeding pending against her in the tribunal during the publication of the “Supplementary List” on 31 August 2019.
“It’s an error on the part of the verifying officer as the list of pending cases in Foreigners’ Tribunals was shared with the DCs from time to time,” the affidavit read.
Sarma cited a similar case of Meser Ali saying he was wrongfully included in the NRC despite being declared foreigner by the tribunal in Jorhat in March 2018. The decision was also upheld by the Gauhati HC in a judgment dated 6 December 2019, after the NRC was published.
“Since he has been declared a foreigner, the name of Meser Ali should not have been included in the NRC,” the affidavit said.
Pointing to errors in the family tree verification method that sought to segregate Indians from those claiming false lineage, Sarma said, “It would have been the ultimate full-proof verification method had it been executed with due diligence.”
He attributed the failure to data entry operators who were absorbed for the purpose without “background verifications of their citizenship status, credentials and all other relevant records”.
Sarma said his observations have been based on findings and whatever he could gather from the office of the state NRC coordinator between May 2014 and February 2017.
APW pushes for re-verification
Assam Public Works (APW), a private NGO and the original petitioner in the Supreme court in the NRC case, has called for scrapping of the final NRC in view of the affidavit. Last year, it had moved the Supreme Court seeking a complete re-verification of the names in the NRC.
“Names of more than 80 lakh illegal immigrants have entered in the NRC. What the State NRC Coordinator is staying in his affidavit is absolutely true. So, this NRC should be scrapped and a new NRC should be prepared after 100% re-verification,” said APW member Abhijeet Sarma.
The call comes even as the Supreme Court dismissed the central and state governments’ plea on 23 July 2019 to conduct a sample re-verification process of 10 per cent to 20 per cent in border districts and other parts.
The order had come before the final list was published, when former state NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela told the apex court that re-verification of 27 per cent names was already done to ascertain wrongful inclusions and exclusions.
The NRC process
The complete draft NRC was first published on 30 July 2018. It included 2.89 crore applicants. Claims were subsequently received from over 36.26 lakh persons against exclusions and over 1.87 lakh people whose names appeared in the draft filed objections.
Another Additional Draft Exclusions List was published on 26 June 2019, in which a little over 1.02 lakh people were excluded.
The final NRC was published taking into account all the objections and claims.
While the NRC process started in 2013, the actual exercise to update it began in February 2015 under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court.
After the publication of the 2019 NRC, several quarters including the state government have claimed that a large number of post-1971 illegal migrants have been included through false documents. Others say that many Indians have been left out.
Some have claimed that while names of Hindu citizens have been excluded, a large number of illegal Muslim immigrants, mainly from border districts, have managed to get their names included in the NRC.