With the Assam Government releasing the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list on August 31st, 2019, around 1.9 million people found themselves excluded from the citizens’ list.
A total of 19,06,657 numbers of persons including those who did not submit Claims were excluded from the final version of the NRC. 3,11,21,004 numbers of persons were found eligible for inclusion in final NRC. The process to update the NRC list began four years back under the supervision of the Supreme Court to identify the genuine citizens of Assam.
The exclusion figure failed to please many in Assam. Though the state remained calm, the political parties, leaders, activists were vociferous in expressing their unhappiness, dissatisfaction and demanded re-verification. They denounced the NRC exclusion figure claiming several genuine Indians had been left out while illegal immigrants had made it to the final list because of ‘anomalies’.
With Assam Ministers and Assam Bharatiya Janata Party crying foul over the updation process and All Assam Students’ Union announcing to move Supreme Court demanding re-verification, the fate of those 19 lakh people who have been left out of the final NRC list is now hanging in uncertainty.
There was a palpable sense of anger, betrayal, fear and helplessness at the NRC Seva Kendras in Assam on August 31st, 2019. Many blamed the Government for exclusion, while, others had no idea what they would do now. Many ripped into the NRC officials; several other ‘genuine citizens’ broke down infront of the cameras.
The next stop for those excluded is Foreigners Tribunal and a long legal battle to prove one’s citizenship. The Ministry of Home Affairs and Assam Government has repeatedly mentioned that no one can be labeled an illegal migrant or a non-citizen just because their names are excluded from the final NRC list.
The process of NRC update was started in Assam as per the order of the Supreme Court of India in 2013. Since then, the top court has been closely monitoring the entire process. The process of NRC update in Assam differs from the rest of the country and is governed by Rule 4A and the corresponding Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. These rules have been framed as per the cut-off date of March 24th (midnight), 1971 decided as per the historic Assam Accord, the result of the six-year-long Assam Movement against illegal immigrants in the state.
State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela – the man in the eye of the storm – said any person who is not satisfied with the outcome of the claims and objections can file an appeal before the Foreigners Tribunals.
The major concern for the excluded people is the money to fight the lengthy legal battle to prove one’s citizenship. A majority of which comes from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society in Assam. The verdict of the Foreigners Tribunal can be challenged at the Gauhati High Court. Dissatisfied with High Court verdict, one may move Supreme Court. The judgment of the Supreme Court will be full and final.
The Government said that those excluded persons from the final NRC will get a window of 10 months to prove their citizenship. An excluded person has a time frame of 120 days or four months from the date of publication of the final NRC to present his or her case at a Foreigners’ Tribunal, which has been instructed to dispose the case within six months.
The political parties and Assam Government assured to provide free legal help to the ‘genuine Indians’ to prove their citizenship. At present, there are 100 Foreigners Tribunals in Assam and the Government will set up more tribunals in the coming weeks.
Now a question arises: Is our current judicial system equipped to hear 19,06,657 numbers of cases and dispose of the same within a fixed time frame? What is the plan of the Government after an excluded person is declared an illegal foreigner by the Supreme Court? Will they be sent to the detention centres? Will they be granted work permits? What lies ahead for Assam which has been fighting for decades against the infiltration of illegal immigrants?
Photo: Moni Subba