Make NRC Exercise More Meaningful

The exclusion list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has kicked up a political storm in Assam. Many groups are not satisfied with the exercise. What should be the corrective measures to realise the original objectives of the NRC is the key question

On August 31, 2019, the exclusion list in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam was published. A total of 19,06,657 people have been excluded from the total of 3,30,27,661 applicants. Thus 5.77% of the applicants have been left out in a long process that was undertaken from February 2015 under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court of India (SC). As it appears many groups are unhappy with the list amid allegations of wilful exclusion of genuine Indians and wrongful inclusion of infiltrators. After such a long exercise involving 52,000 Assam Government employees working under the guidance of the Assam NRC Coordinator (ANC) spending more than Rs 1600 crore from the public exchequer involving hardships and costs by the applicants, the NRC list has witnessed such a big disappointment. The whole effort at identifying illegal immigrants in Assam through the process of NRC update, hitherto undertaken in 1951, was meant to carrying out an agreed premise decided while the signing of the Assam accord in 1985. However, it took than 30 years to actually do the exercise, that too under constant push of the SC and finally a list to no one’s satisfaction. Prior to this final list, the ANC had published the final draft list in June 2018 whereby 40 lakh names were excluded and an additional exclusion list of 1.02 lakh in June 2019.
While the deadline for submission was extended a couple of times, closer to the earlier date of July 31, 2019 for the publication of the final NRC list, both the union and the state government of Assam had prayed to the Supreme to have sample reverification of 20% of the names in the border districts and 10% in the other districts as also extend the date of publication. Their prayer for re-verification was rejected by the SC who relied on the note from the ANC that 27% re-verification had happened while disposing of claims and verification from the draft final list. Also some glaring instances of errors had surfaced all through the media and the arrest of two NRC staff for demanding bribes to include names had also raised concerns in the civil society.
Raising doubts over inclusion in over 20 districts of the State, the original petitioner, Assam Public Works, has filed an appeal on June 20 this year before to the SC for 100% re-verification of final draft NRC, alleging that many illegal foreigners have managed to enroll themselves in draft NRC. Earlier the All Assam Students Union (AASU) had threatened to reject NRC if the number of excluded persons is below their expected levels of over 60-70 lakhs. Likewise the Citizenship Rights Protection Coordination Committee (CRPCC) has demanded the resolution of the D voters issues before the final list. The Sachetan Nagrik Manch (SNM) has demanded for the extension of the deadline citing large pendency and has collected 27 lakh signature from across the State on the issue for placing it before the President of India to highlight its concerns.
Now with the final list out, everyone is unhappy. The ruling BJP in the State has been very critical of the effort and have mentioned about going back to SC and asking for re-verification as sought earlier. Both APW, AASU and various other organisation, have expressed their frustration with the list as the number of exclusions have been much below their expected lines. Most of them go back to former governor Lt Gen (Retd) SK Sinha’s report in November 1998 wherein he had mentioned about 40 lakh illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam. Also estimated figures were also mentioned by two minsters of state for home at the Centre at different intervals and they have shown much higher numbers. With the current number of just over 19 lakh in the NRC final list who are excluded, that would also reduce once when those left out appealed to the Foreigner Tribunals (FT) courts, the concern in most quarters is that what has been achieved after all these years of agitations and losses to lives and property in the state.

Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma 

“Those who are genuine Indians and whose names are not in the final NRC should not be afraid. And foreigners who got themselves included in the final NRC should not celebrate. I want to make it clear that nothing is final till Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah are there… till the names of foreigners are excluded and that of genuine Indians included. Nobody should say the last word” — Assam Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

Likewise the Bengali Hindus who are left out of the list in large numbers have expressed their displeasure over the final list. The All Assam Bengali Hindu Association (AABHA) which supported the BJP Government’s efforts for the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) earlier along with Goirik Bharat have already led protests against the list. Bengali Hindus who are there in Assam ever since the partition of Sylhet after a motivated referendum in 1947 have been vociferous about being profiled and removed from the NRC list as part of a greater conspiracy. As per them, those who have come have fled due to religious persecution in Bangladesh and they have refugee certificate which is their only means of identity and NRC process under ANC rejected refugee certificate. With Assam Health Minister and NEDA chairman Himanta Biswa Sarma mentioning about taking up the issue of refugee certificates, they feel that many genuine persons would find their name in the NRC list.
Now the issue that remains to be seen is what will happen in the next few weeks. Those who are left out of the NRC list can file appeal before the FTs within 120 days of this list being published. Already an additional 200 FTs are being established to augment the existing 100 numbers functioning across the state. The state government has also mentioned through a public notice that those who are left out of the NRC will not be detained under any circumstances until the FTs finally pronounce them as foreigners. Also those not satisfied with the decision of the FTs can approach the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court. Clearly there are avenues available to those left out to try all the steps so that they can prove their case. However those who are declared as illegal migrants by the FTs will be taken to detention camps and confined there until their deportation to their native country which has to be identified and processes worked out.
Clearly the NRC list has to be to the satisfaction of all concerned and so the next steps have to be diligently decided by the union as well as Assam Government. Undertaking the whole exercise might not be feasible nor desired, but a correct list is crucial to gather public confidence after all the effort undertaken. The State Government of Assam has already indicated its intent to approach the SC for re-verification and also look at other steps, but they should set the course for a quick relook at the detailed final complete list that is expected on September 7, 2019 and see all the family tree and other databases and the processes involved by the ANC in the whole exercise. Since a lot of information technology based processes have been used, it will be easier to audit the software, algorithm and the outcomes of the exercise. The motto remains clear — Not a single genuine Indian name has to be excluded and at the same time not a single illegal immigrant included.
(The writer is a defence & security analyst)