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Process to challenge NRC exclusion in Assam could start today, a year after it was halted

NRC was finalised in Assam last year, but the 19 lakh people who didn't find their names on the list haven’t been able to challenge their exclusion before foreigners tribunals so far.

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New Delhi: The National Register of Citizens (NRC) authorities in Assam are Tuesday likely to finally push ahead with an exercise that will allow the 19 lakh applicants left out last year to contest their exclusion.

The NRC is an statewide initiative in Assam that aims to identify illegal foreigners in line with a decades-old campaign that views them as a threat to local demography and rights of the state’s ethnic natives.

The NRC was finalised and released last year, but the people left out of the exercise were given a chance to appeal their exclusion before foreigners’ tribunals, which are quasi judicial bodies formed to verify the claims of suspected illegal immigrants. 

For this, they would require rejection slips attached with a document called “speaking orders” that detail the reason they were excluded from the register. These rejection slips haven’t been issued to the excluded NRC applicants so far, delaying the contesting process, but NRC officials told ThePrint that they will start the process Tuesday.

Explaining the challenge process, an NRC official, who didn’t wish to be named, said they had begun the process to prepare the rejection slips last year, but subsequently discovered discrepancies. “Each rejection slip needs to be attached with the speaking order which will contain the exact reason for the exclusion… But there have been discrepancies (in the slips compiled). Proper reasons for rejection are necessary for the exercise. There have been instances of faulty documents being submitted, too, that need to be re-examined.” 

According to the official, a new “quality-check” software to examine the documents will arrive by 1 September or Tuesday.

“The scanning software for quality-checking the documents… should arrive tomorrow,” the official said Monday. “And the work of the speaking orders will start. Only after they (documents) are re-checked, can these orders be issued to the public for filing appeals in the foreigner tribunals,” he added. 

ThePrint approached NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma for comment through repeated calls and text messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing.

Also Read: Assam’s NRC wound was re-opened and then conveniently forgotten by India

‘Will yet take time’

Sarma’s predecessor Prateek Hajela had set 30 October as the deadline for completing the speaking orders process, along with the scanning of all relevant documents. However, Hajela was transferred out of the state by the Supreme Court in October 2019. Sarma didn’t join office for a month after his appointment, citing personal reasons. 

Talking about the delay in the process, a circle officer from a lower Assam district said the Covid-19 pandemic was among the reasons.

“The quality check couldn’t be done properly the last time. Now they are stuck due to Covid and, hence, the exact number of discrepancies isn’t known,” the official added. “The exact number of discrepancies, and what they are, will be known only after re-checking all the orders,” the officer added. 

A circle officer from an upper Assam district said they are short of staff in light of the Covid pandemic and the issuance of rejection slips may yet take some time.

“The process has been stuck due to the Covid pandemic. Most officials are engaged in work related to coronavirus. There is an extreme shortage of staff, especially circle officers. Even though the process starts from 1 September, it will take a while to do the rechecking and scanning,” the officer added.

Also Read: With Assam NRC, the truth is also out — it was a pointless exercise all along


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