How OI becomes a factor in terms of Panchayat Documents for the NRC process

By Anuraag Baruah

NRC’s state coordinator Prateek Hajela kicked up a storm recently by bringing up the issue of ‘Original Inhabitants’ (OI) in the follow up to the publication of the final draft NRC by 31st Dec, 2017. Hajela had said that that out of the 47.09 lakh applicants who had submit panchayat documents as proof of their residency, about 17.4 lakh were “original inhabitants”, while the claims of the rest were being verified.

While various organizations fighting for the rights of the minority in the state got busy demanding to know on what basis OI’s have been selected including its definition, they overlooked the fact that OI has become a factor indirectly in the whole NRC process. It soon snowballed into a major controversy with several communities, like Muslims, Gorkhas and Bengalis, demanding to be recognized as original inhabitants of Assam.

OI not a factor for NRC?

Regarding OI, Prateek Hajela on Wednesday said that the names of the persons who are originally inhabitants of the State of Assam and their children and descendants, who are citizen of India shall be included in the consolidated list if the citizenship of such persons is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt and to the satisfaction of the registering authority as mentioned in the Provisions of Clause 3(3) of Schedule the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

Hajela further said that the matter of OI is sub-judice and NRC will contain the list of Indian citizens and not on the basis of OI. Moreover, in case of issues concerning documents submitted for the NRC update, verification team will visit the residences of applicants and they will be given adequate opportunity to clear their doubts. In the final draft of NRC, nobody will be shown as Original Inhabitant, he further added.

Why talk about OI in the first place then?

On February 28, the High Court had said that residency certificates issued by panchayats would no longer be considered as valid documents for NRC. This led to the fear of nullification of 48 lakh ‘link documents’ (Panchayat Documents) leading to widespread confusion across the state specially the indigenous people.

Twist to the plot happened when Hajela declared that ‘Original Inhabitants’ need not worry as their names would be inducted into the NRC meaning they would find their names in the NRC even if they submitted Panchayat Documents as ‘link documents’. OI actually becomes a factor in terms of Panchayat Documents. This led to a common acceptance that no original inhabitants would be disturbed because of submitting Panchayat Documents and that illegal migrants wouldn’t be able to produce any other valid document in lieu of the Panchayat Document thus making the whole NRC process more effective.

This is the point where OI becomes a factor as rest of the 30 lakh people who submitted ‘Panchayat Documents’ might have to further produce documents in lieu of the Panchayat Documents to find their names in the updated NRC. People failing to produce documents in lieu of Panchayat Documents in the month long verification process post 31st Dec might find their names missing from the Final NRC and those hopefully would only be the foreigners residing in Assam illegally. Various minority organizations and leaders have but expressed concern that many genuine citizens would be left out from the Final NRC if validity of Panchayat Documents is nullified.