NRC (National Register of Citizens)

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    10th Sep, 2019

Context

Context

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.

BACKGROUND

  • During British rule, Assam was merged with Bengal Presidency for administrative purpose. From 1826 to 1947, the British continuously brought migrant workers to Assam for cheap labour in tea plantations.
  • There had been several waves of migration to Assam from Bangladeshbut the two major waves of migration came after British rule — first after Partition, from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and then the biggest in the aftermath of the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. This eventually led to an agitation during 1979-85, led by the All Assam Students’ Union demanding illegal migrants to be identified and deported.
  • The Assam Accord of 1985 that ended the six-year anti-foreigners' agitation decided upon the midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off dateto root out foreigners. The NRC process was thus started to address the issue of illegal migrants, specifically from Bangladesh.
  • The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended after the Assam Accord for all Indian-origin people who came from Bangladesh before January 1, 1966 to be deemed as citizens. Those who came between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 were eligible for citizenship after registering and living in the State for 10 years while those entering after March 25, 1971, were to be deported.

National Register of Citizens

  • The National Register of Citizens was first published in 1951 to record citizens, their houses and holdings.
  • Updating the NRC to root out foreigners was a demand during the Assam Agitation (1979-1985). The updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) was published on August 31, 2019.
  • It is the biggest exercise India has undertaken to weed out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, as well as their descendants, settled illegally in India, even as there is still no clear plan on deportation of those excluded from the final list.
  • The NRC is a Supreme Court-monitored exercise. It took five years and Rs. 1,220 crore. All residents of Assam had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in India before March 24, 1971.
  • When the final draft of the list was released on July 30, 2018, out of 3.29 crore applicants, the names of over 40 lakh people were left out of the list.
  • Over 19 lakh people found themselves excluded from the final list on August 31, 2019.

Analysis

Issues in the NRC Process

  • The Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner in the Supreme Court which led to the updation of the National Register of Citizens six years ago, said the final NRC turned out to be a "flawed document" as its appeal for reverification of the draft list was rejected by the apex court.
  • There are doubts whether the software used in the updation exercise was capable enough to handle so much data and if it was examined by any third party Information Technology expert.
  • The State government and many political parties have promised to offer legal help to those excluded suggests that procedural errors might have occurred in the process.
  • But such assistance should have been forthcoming from the time the updating exercise was rolled out on the ground in 2015.
  • Such legal help was mostly left to sundry organisations and concerned activists to come to the aid of hundreds of thousands oblivious of documentation novelties such as legacy data.

Fate of excluded People

  • Those excluded, will now need to prove that they or their ancestors were Indian citizens on or before 24 March 1971, according to the Assam Accord of 1985, which was drafted between the Centre, the Assam government and the All Assam Students’ Union.
  • Excluded persons will have 120 days to file an appeal at any of the existing 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals. At least 200 additional Foreigners’ Tribunals are expected to be set up by September, 2019.
  • The Tribunals are required to dispose of the cases within six months. Appellants can then approach the High Court and Supreme Court. They will get a window of 10 months to prove their citizenship before being sent to detention centres.
  • Six Central jails will double up as detention centres. A separate detention centre at Agia in western Assam’s Goalpara district has been constructed. It has the capacity to house 3,000 people. Ten more such centres are in the works.

Nowlays the question of what to do with those declared illegal aliens once the quasi-judicial process is done and dusted.

Will they be deported?

Issues in Deportation

  • For a country to be able to deport a mass of individuals to another country, the second country has to accept that they were its citizens who entered the first country illegally.
  • According to government data until February 2019, Assam has since 2013 deported 166 persons (162 “convicted” and four “declared”) including 147 to Bangladesh.
  • The NRC context is vastly different this is not about a few hundred but lakhs of individuals, many of whom have lived in Assam for decades and been identifying themselves as Indian citizens.
  • Bangladesh has always maintained that NRC is an internal matter of India.Over the years, Bangladeshi leaders have frequently been quoted in the media as denying the presence of its nationals in India.
  • Now even External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said thatthe process of documenting and identifying illegal immigrants in Assam is India's "internal matter".

Other options

  • The administration is readying detention centres, but only a veritable ‘prison state’ can house such numbers.The detention centres have often come into focus for lack of basic facilities, and the Supreme Court recently allowed conditional release of those who have completed three years in detention, against a bond.
  • Some has suggested that their identity should be digitally recorded and they should not be allowed to claim Indian citizenship in other states.
  • Once that is done, they should be given basic human rights. Then a system of work permits can be instituted.
  • A renewed attempt should be taken to nudge Dhaka to take in some of the declared foreigners with appropriate deal.
  • Some ‘friendly’ State governments volunteering to share some of the burden can be provided with some incentives.

Way forward

  • The Centre might have a plan in place, but if it is in the form of the Citizenship Amendment Bill to extend citizenship to non-Muslims alone, left after judicial filtration, it would negate the very non-denominational premise of the exercise to identify those who entered the country illegally after the cut-off date of March 24, 1971.
  • While the apex court could still consider limited Re-verification to satisfy sentiments even though it had rejected the plea in the run-up to final publication, the aim should be to bury the bogey of the Bangladeshi.

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