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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2017-11-01


Assam's NRC quandary: No immediate end in sight as cut-off date for citizenship is yet to be sealed politically


Even as a tensions and apprehensions have gripped Assam over speculation that the draft updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state may exclude lakhs of people residing in the state, it is not clear if the updated NRC would ever settle the vexed foreigners’ issue as the cut-off date to decide as to who can enjoy the status of an Indian citizen in the northeastern state is yet to be sealed politically.

The Supreme Court, which has been monitoring the process, directed partial publication of the draft NRC on December 31 this year until the issue of claims of 48 lakh applicants, who submitted the certificates issued by Gaon (village) Panchayat secretaries to support the claim, is decided by the apex court. The Gauhati High Court in a judgment and order held that certificate issued by a Gaon Panchayat secretary is not legal and valid document to support a claim for inclusion in the NRC.

Photo- Dasarath Deka

Altogether 68.33 lakh application forms and about five crore supporting documents were submitted to the NRC authorities till the closure of submission on August 31, 2015 for inclusion of names in the updated NRC. Apprehensions over exclusion of names in the final NRC were raised after State Coordinator, NRC Prateek Hajela submitted before the Supreme Court on October 12 that of 47 lakh applicants who have submitted claims for inclusion in the NRC on the basis of certificates issues by Gaon Panchayat secretary, 17.40 lakh are original inhabitants and on the basis of a detailed field verification the Registering Authority is satisfied that with regard to the citizenship status of the aforesaid 17.40 lakhs applicants. The Division Bench of the apex court comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha while taking the state coordinator, NRC’s statement on record, in course hearing a bunch of Special Leave Petitions, directed that the claims of those 17.40 lakh persons be process accordingly. The Bench said in its order that whether the claims of the remaining 26.13 lakhs for inclusion in the NRC are to be verified “on the basis of the Certificate(s) of the Gram Panchayat Secretary or on the basis of other documents would depend on the final answer that the apex Court would provide to the issue(s) arise in the present special leave petition(s) in question.” The SLPs were filed challenging the Gauhati High Court judgment and order. The Supreme Court has fixed November 15 as the next date of hearing.

Although existing Citizenship laws have clearly spelt out who can be an India citizen, amendments to provisions in the existing laws are pending before the parliament.

It is not clear if the modalities of NRC would require to be reviewed if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, which has already been tabled in both Houses of parliament is passed into an act. Passage of the bill in the parliament may give rise to fresh political conditions and legal questions if revised modalities would also apply to those whose names are going to be excluded from the updated NRC in the event of their failure to submit proof of their residential qualification for citizenship in Assam in respect to the cut-off date for updating the NRC, 1951.

Photo courtesy - nrcassam.nic.in

The modalities for updating the NRC in Assam state that persons whose names appear in NRC, 1951, persons whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (midnight), 1971, descendants of these persons, persons who came to Assam on or after 1st January 1966 but before 25th March 1971 and registered themselves in accordance with the rules made by the Central Government with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority, Persons who are original inhabitant of Assam and their children and descendant who are citizens of India provided the citizenship of such person as is ascertained reasonable doubt by the registering authority are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC.

In accordance with the Supreme Court order all Indian Citizens including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post March 24, 1971 would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on 24th March, 1971.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 proposes to grant citizenship to persons belonging to six non-Muslim minority communities- Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians- from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and reduce the aggregate period of residential qualification for citizenship, in respect of the migrants from these three countries, from 11 years to six years. However, no distinction in respect of any religion has been made in the modalities for updating the NRC. Therefore, if the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 require to be incorporated, when the bill is passed into an Act, then it runs the risk of reducing the process of updating the NRC also to be on religious lines unless those, including the Muslim migrants, excluded for not being able to prove their residency qualification for citizenship for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC are also brought in the ambit of the new modalities to be framed.

Photo courtesy - pmindia.gov.in

For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party both at the Centre and in Assam, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is a political necessity as the party believes that granting of citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi migrants will help the party consolidate its support base among Hindu Bengali voters not just in Assam, it will also help woo Hindu Bengali voters in West Bengal and Tripura. The party made the bill a major poll plank in 2016 Assam Assembly polls and has been defending the stand for pushing the citizenship amendment bill in the parliament.

Opposition parties and various minority groups have raised questions over identification of the 17.40 lakh of the 48 applicants as original inhabitants and demanded the NRC authorities make criteria public to remove confusion and apprehension among the people, which they said have been doing the rounds across the state.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal cautioned the people that certain forces were trying to create confusion and fear psychosis by spreading rumour regarding the NRC and warned that such acts would be treated “anti-national”. He also sought to allay apprehensions among the people with the assurance that his government would ensure that names of all genuine citizens in the state were included in the updated NRC. However, a political finality in respect of cut-off date for deciding the citizenship issue remaining elusive with the Citizenship ( Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to grants citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshi migrants and other non-Muslim minority communities from Pakistand and Afghanistan still pending before the parliament, the apprehension over the NRC cannot be expected to die down immediately in the state.

Sushanta Talukdar

(This article was first published in Firstpost http://www.firstpost.com/on 31-10-17. The original article can be accessed at the following link- http://www.firstpost.com/india/assams-nrc-quandary-no-immediate-end-in-sight-as-cut-off-date-for-citizenship-is-yet-to-be-sealed-politically-4185653.html



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