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Countrywide NRC- Its Implications

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    3rd Dec, 2019

Recently, Union home minister said in Parliament that the Nation Register of Citizens (NRC) would be prepared for every state in the country. 

Issue

Recently, Union home minister said in Parliament that the Nation Register of Citizens (NRC) would be prepared for every state in the country. 

Background

  • The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register containing names of all genuine Indian citizens. At present, only Assam has such a register
  • The exercise may be extended to other states as well. Nagaland is already creating a similar database known as the Register of Indigenous Inhabitants. The Centre is planning to create a National Population Register (NPR), which will contain demographic and biometric details of citizens.
  • National Register of Citizens, 1951 is a register prepared after the conduct of the Census of 1951.
  • Purpose:To separate “illegal” immigrants and deport them.
  • Nodal Agency:Registrar General and Census Commissioner India.

NRC in Assam

  • The issue of its update assumed importance as Assam witnessed large-scale illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan and, after 1971, from present-day Bangladesh.
  • This led to the six-year-long Assam movement from 1979 to 1985, for deporting illegal migrants.
  • The All Assam Students' Union (AASU) led the movement that demanded the updating of the NRC and the deportation of all illegal migrants who had entered Assam after 1951.
  • The movement culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985.
  • It set March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for the deportation of illegal migrants.
  • Since the cut-off date prescribed under articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution was July 19, 1949 - to give force to the new date, an amendment was made to the Citizenship Act, 1955, and a new section was introduced.
  • It was made applicable only to Assam.
  • There had been intermittent demands from AASU and other organisations in Assam for updating the NRC, an Assam based NGO filed a petition at the Supreme Court.
  • In December 2014, a division bench of the apex court ordered that the NRC be updated in a time-bound manner.
  • The NRC of 1951 and the Electoral Roll of 1971 (up to midnight of 24 March 1971) are together called Legacy Data. Persons and their descendants whose names appeared in these documents are certified as Indian citizens.
  • On 31st August, the updated National Registry of Citizens was released in Assam after a Supreme Court deadline. Of the 3.3 crore applicants, 3.11 crore figured in the final citizens' list, while about 19 lakh residents were excluded.
  • Assam government rejected NRC data released on 31st August.

Analysis

Aim

  • Census and National Population Register is counting residents while the proposed NRC will count citizens. Its objective is to weed out non-citizens and deport them to their countries of origin or put them in detention camps.

Scope of NRC across India

  • An amendment in the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, issued by the central government on May 30 paves the way for expanding the scope of NRC beyond.
  • The amended order empowers state governments and even district magistrates of all states and Union Territories to set up tribunals to identify a "foreigner" who is living in India illegally.

Implications of Nationwide NRC

  • It puts an entire population under suspicion of alienage. Under the foreigners’ Act 1946, the burden of proof rests on the individual charged with being a foreigner. Moreover, Citizenship Act provides no mechanism for identifying aliens. With that justification can a state that does not have the ability to detect aliens or even to secure its borders against illegal immigrants, set out to find aliens by elimination? Elimination method is not the right approach.
  • Cost of Authentication: Preparation of a countrywide NRC requires lot of resources. The Assam NRC is reported to have costed Rs 1600 crores. To prepare a countrywide NRC we need an estimated outlay of Rs 4.26 lakh crore. It would also need deployment of 1.33 crore officials when total number of government employees in India was 2.9 crore in 2011-12.
  • Lot of time to prepare it: It is a regressive exercise and will take lot of time to prepare it.
  • Building new detention centers that will be needed to incarcerate the excluded people.
  • Panic among people: The necessary documents required to be included in NRC has created panic and fear in Assam and many committed suicides as they were not having the documents to prove their citizenship even when their ancestors have been living here for hundreds of years. If NRC done at national level it would have graver ramifications.
  • Federal Imperative of seeking the consent of state governments: Many states in northeast are erupting in protest against NRC. It is a federal issue and requires consultations between states and the centre and it cannot be done on the whims of a particular political party that comes to party.
  • Fraying plural social fabric of this nation: If the NRC carves out paths to statelessness for groups that are disfavoured, the citizenship Amendment Bill creates paths to citizenship for preferred groups. The implicit assumption in the NRC is that the infiltrators are Bangladeshis Muslims who must be disenfranchised as they have illegally acquired the citizenship. The citizenship Amendment Bill on the other hand promises citizenship to migrants belonging to all groups except Muslims – who will be eligible for fast-track citizenship because they are persecuted minorities in Afghanistan, Pajistan and Bangladesh. However, it does not offer the same to the victims of sectarian religious persecution in neighbouring countries, such as the Ahmadiyas or the Rohingyas. It is a hypocrisy on part of the state.

Modalities for Implementation of NRC

  • Although citizenship rules say being born in India or having parents who were born in India are enough for the citizenship. The NRC also requires you or your parents to have been born before a certain cut-off date. In case of Assam, you have to prove that your ancestors entered India before March 24, 1971, the eve of the Bangladesh War. You can be born in India in 1971, to parents who crossed the border that year, and still be considered a foreigner at the age of 48.
  • The Home Ministry is working on modalities to implement across the country the exercise to identify illegal immigrants for deportation.

Conclusion

Constitutionally, India is a political community whose citizens avow the idea of the nation as a civic entity, transcending ethnic differences. The NRC-CAB combination signals a transformative shift from a civic-national conception to an ethno-national conception of India, as a political community in which identity determines gradations of citizenship. Hence, the rationale for a nationwide register of citizens, its feasibility, and, above all, its moral legitimacy, is questionable

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