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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-11-19

Apprehension over Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 overshadows aspirations for a correct NRC in Assam

 

Submission of an application by the Registrar General of India Sailesh through the central government before the Supreme Court seeking extension of time till July 31, 2018 for preparation and publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam has triggered speculation by student and youth bodies in the state that the move was aimed at inclusion of names of Hindu Bangladeshis in the updated citizens’ register.

Along with the application the RGI submitted an annexure (Annexure-A 2) of three pages in a sealed cover for perusal of the court only, stating the details of “concrete factual scenario” that, he claimed, has emerged with respect to preparation of the draft NRC. He has submitted in the application that before the draft NRC is published, all the results need to be subjected to various quality checks to ensure consistency and accuracy which would require two months time in addition to the time mentioned in Annexure-A 2.

RGI has also submitted another annexure (Annexure A 1) - a copy of the Gazette notifications issued on March 29, 2017 notifying that “enumeration in connection with the updation of the National Register of Citizens, 1951 in respect of the state of Assam shall be completed within the period ending on the 31st Day of December, 2017.”

The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the process of updating the NRC, 1951, had directed publication of the first draft on December 31, 2017 and also fixed November 22 as the next date of hearing a bunch of Special Leave Petitions challenging the Gauhati High Court judgment and order that held that certificate issued by a Gaon Panchayat secretary is not legal and valid document to support a claim for inclusion in the NRC.

Reacting to the Centre’s move of seeking deferment of publication of the NRC draft, the All Assam Students’ Union, the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad and various other organisations have alleged that Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre was bent on passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for granting citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis ahead of finalisation of the draft NRC.

The NRC, 1951 is being updated by enumerating names of all those and their descendants whose names are there in it or any voters’ lists up to 1971. The cut-off date for inclusion of names in the NRC has been fixed on the basis of Assam Accord which stipulates that all foreigners who came to Assam illegally after the midnight of March 24, 1971 are to be identified and expelled from the country. However, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 tabled by the BJP-led government in both the Houses of parliament seeks to grants citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis as well as other non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. If and when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed it will give rise to legal complications as to the cut-off date for inclusion of names in the updated NRC and the entire enumeration process which is based on the cut-off date March 24, 1971 stipulated in the Assam Accord and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

Any modification in the cut-off date for identification of Bangladeshi migrants in accordance with the amended Citizenship Act will also raise question on relevance of the Assam Accord in its present form which makes no distinction of illegal Bangladeshi migrants on the basis of religion and stipulates that any foreigner, irrespective of Hindu or Muslims, who has entered Assam illegally after March 24, 1971 must be identified and expelled. For, this cut-off date will then be applicable only to illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and accordingly the Assam Accord would then required to be reviewed and amended to incorporate the modification in the cut-off date for exclusion of post-71 Hindu Bangladeshis from the process of identification and expulsion of foreigners. Any government decision to retain the 1971 cut off year for the purpose of NRC even after passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, on the other hand would lead to creation of two classes of Indian Citizens in Assam-one having names in NRC and the other excluded from it.

The opposition to the Centre’s move for deferment of publication of the NRC draft stems from the apprehension that there would be no escape from such legal complications in updating the NRC in Assam if the Central and the state government seek to settle the Citizenship issue on religious lines.

Sushanta Talukdar

 

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