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Assam gears up for final NRC list — what the exercise is all about & the way forward

Of the total of 3.29 crore applicants in Assam, a little over 40 lakh have not found their names on the NRC list so far.

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New Delhi: The final list of the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is due to be published Saturday, raising several questions about the way ahead especially given the politically and socially sensitive nature of this exercise.

The first draft of the list was released on 31 December 2017 and the final draft on 30 July last year. In June, an ‘additional draft exclusion list’ was published where one lakh names were dropped from those who had been earlier included. In all, of the total of 3.29 crore applicants, a little over 40 lakh applicants have not found their names so far.

As Assam prepares to deal with the ramifications of this mammoth exercise, ThePrint details what the NRC is all about, the steps after the list is out as well as the politics around it.

What is NRC?

The National Register of Citizens (NRC), first published after the 1951 Census, is now being updated in a Supreme Court-monitored exercise keeping 24 March 1971 as the cut-off date to identify those who immigrated to Assam illegally from Bangladesh.

The idea is to draw up a comprehensive and decisive list of those who are ‘illegal foreigners’ in the state, as against the indigenous Assamese and those who have legitimately moved to the state.

The process began in 2013 when the Supreme Court instructed the government to update the NRC list — a demand which was part of the 1985 Assam Accord signed between those who led the six-year Assam Agitation of 1979 and the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre.

In May 2015 — after the structure was readied — the process of receiving applications finally began. As part of the process, every resident of Assam had to prove that his/her legacy in the state dates back to before 1971. For this, applicants had to submit documents to prove that their names appeared in the NRC of 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls of Assam till 1971, or in any of 12 other documents, which had to have been issued before 1971.

After the final draft published in July last year, the process of claims and objections was carried out through an extensive hearings-based process and of the around 40 lakh people left out, a little over 36 lakh filed claims.

It is the final outcome of this exhaustive process that will reflect in Saturday’s list.


Also read: Updating NRC in Assam is a grave mistake. BJP govt and SC would do well to leave it alone


What’s next

While the process of updating the NRC has been both complex and mammoth, it is the question over the next steps that is perhaps the most complicated.

Essentially, those left out of the list will get 120 days to appeal to the Foreigners Tribunal. The ones still unsatisfied will have to approach the courts. This is the current norm as well, where those suspected to be foreigners by authorities or those identified as D-Voters (doubtful voters) move to the Foreigners Tribunal. If declared foreigners, most appeal in courts.

However, the differences between the BJP governments at the Centre and state and NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela have only added to the confusion.

The BJP governments have expressed their doubt, claiming there are “wrongful inclusions”, especially in border areas. They have been demanding a sample re-verification of 20 per cent names in the districts bordering Bangladesh, and a 10 per cent re-verification in the remaining districts of Assam — which the apex court turned down. Hajela, meanwhile, has maintained that re-verification is an inbuilt provision in the process and does not need to be carried out separately.

The Assam government has indicated it could take the legislative route to deal with the “anomalies” once the final list is out.

However, the status is unclear over what will happen to those eventually identified as illegal immigrants. Given the diplomatic, humanitarian and social repercussions, deportation seems an unlikely option. What adds to the complexity is how even within families, some have found their names in the list while others haven’t. Is it then possible to declare some members of one family as foreigners and others as genuine Indian citizens?

Some options being considered are giving refugee status to the ‘foreigners’, taking away voting rights as well as government benefits.

But there remains no clarity on the way forward.

The politics around it

While identifying ‘outsiders’ has been an organic demand of the ethnic Assamese people, who have for decades felt their limited resources are being snatched away, a communal angle has now found its way in.

The BJP, through its rhetoric and actions like attempts to bring in the Citizenship Amendment Bill, has added religion as a variable in this exercise, which otherwise has been entirely about ethnic faultlines.


Also read: ‘Fake’ complaints against genuine Indian citizens registered in NRC raises concern


 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Very poorly researched article Ruhi ! Why was the need for NRC in the first place? What happened actually in the ground after the Assam accord? What’s the dimension of illegal foreign influx, continuing unabated for decades now, in Assam, Tripura West Bengal and other states? I would have let it go if it was a simple news item, but not when you would add a tag line ” What the exercise is all about?”. Show some respect to your craft and do some primary research…..NRC came about as the only possible solution, if you don’t think so, propose a viable alternative and argue for it ! There will be confusions around the implementation and of course political entities benefiting from such influx would make noise ! Of course BJP “tried” to add a religious angle, but immediately backfired due to the intense backlash that followed from the people of Assam. Topics like NRC are sensitive subjects so go about whole heartily instead of dishing out half baked stories that picks up tits and bits to reflect presuppose narratives that goes with the flow maybe in your Print Office !
    My humble request to be fair,
    Your readers at least that much !

  2. Har ek mulq ki ek productive capacity, governance bandwidth hoti hai. It is for each nation to decide what its priorities are, where it wishes to see itself a few decades hence. NRC is just one instance of the path we seem to be choosing for ourselves. Difficult to visualise CM Sonowal organising an Investors’ Summit, businessmen from other parts of the country and the world rushing to Assam, committing billions of dollars. A dark, dystopian world, miserably poor, traumatised human beings, wasting their meagre savings on legal expenses, all the petty corruption that will flourish.

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