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Friday, April 16, 2021

    Left in Limbo: A year after NRC publication; Uncertainty continues over Citizenship

    The NRC update in Assam was a fallout of the Assam Accord of 1985, which sets March 24, 1971, as the cutoff date for citizenship

    Fifty-six-year-old Ikramul Siddik from Morigaon’s Bhuragaon area has lost his crops this flood. But it’s not the flood that he was worried now. It’s his citizenship status that has been keeping on chasing him in his nightmares. Ikramul and his 16-year-old son-Samsul’s name were missing from the final list of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on August 31 last year.

    One year has passed since the publication of the NRC and the process seemed like stopped there. The final list left out about 19 lakh applicants. Though it was said that these 19 lakh can approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) after receiving their formal rejection notices, all of them were now left in limbo as they were yet to be served with the notices even after a complete year.

    NRC authorities have blamed the delay on the ongoing pandemic of COVID 19. It said that almost all the officials earlier engaged with the updating process of NRC were now busy tackling the COVID 19. Sources claimed that the process may start in October. “What else we have to undergo more? Flood, poverty and now citizenship. I had sold my goats to prepare for the fees of lawyers to fight for my Indian citizenship in the court but nothing had happened for one year now. The money is also expensed in other works now,” Siddik cried. He claimed that despite submitting all the necessary documents twice, the names were missing from the NRC.

    Following the publication of the final NRC list, numerous instances have come to surface where the applicants’ claims were rejected most likely due to some technical reasons. The names of former AIUDF legislator from Katigorah, Ataur Rahman Mazarbhuiya, and current legislator from the south Abhayapuri, Ananta Kumar Malo, along with his son, were excluded too.

    The Supreme Court had earlier allowed 15 documents as eligible for establishing the presence of the applicant or an ancestor in Assam before 1971. Apart from the 1951 NRC, voter lists up to March 24, 1971, citizenship certificates, refugee registration certificates and ration cards issued prior to March 24, 1971, the apex court allowed other papers such as land documents, a permanent residential certificate issued from outside the state, passport, insurance policy, any license or certificate issued by any government authority, a document showing service or employment under government or Public Sector Undertakings; bank or post office accounts; birth certificates issued by the competent authority; educational certificate issued by boards or universities, and records or processes pertaining to the court, provided they are part of processing in a judicial or revenue court.

    However, the paperwork and collection of certified copies for someone who is not listed in the NRC is going to be very difficult. If a claimant doesn’t have a certified copy of his supporting documents, he will not be issued a fresh certificate by the authorities till his name is cleared from the list. It’s a catch-22 situation.

    An advocate working in an FT court in Barpeta said that in some cases, the appellant might need to take the RTI route to collect relevant documents which may be time-consuming. “All documents have to be certified. Moreover, the issuing authority has to come in person to give witness and authenticate the certificate. Gathering of witnesses to support one’s claim is another mammoth task,” the lawyer added.

    The right to pass a verdict on someone’s citizenship now lies within the ambit of FTs, a quasi-judicial body set up to solve matters of dubious citizenship. The state has prepared some 300 FTs for receiving the claims from those who want to challenge the NRC list and claim their Indian identity.

    Those excluded can also approach the Gauhati High Court or even the Supreme Court in case they are dissatisfied with the response of the Foreigners’ Tribunals.“Of course one can approach an FT or higher courts, but when? The state is approaching an election next year. So is the state is going to undergo an election with faulty voter list as the NRC process yet to be completed?” asked senior Gauhati high court lawyer Nekibur Zaman.

    The final list of Assam’s NRC excluded the names of over 19 lakh applicants. A total of 3.30 crore applicants had applied to be included in the NRC. In Assam, NRC was updated after the Supreme Court intervention.  The update, mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court, was a fallout of the Assam Accord of 1985, which sets March 24, 1971, as the cutoff date for citizenship. Those who entered Assam before that date are recognised as citizens.

    But sadly, it’s not only those left out of NRC who were eyeing at an uncertain future. Some 1600 candidates who were recruited for working in these FTs were also left in the midway. Almost a year later too, they were yet to give appointments by the state government. Earlier, the state government had delayed the appointments saying that the construction and infrastructure of the new tribunals were yet to be completed.

    For the people of Assam, the NRC which once believed to be the master key to solve the state’s age-old problem of infiltration has now itself turned into a ‘problem’. The future of NRC and a solution to the problem of illegal influx continued to seem like a distant dream.


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