Thanks to the lack of commitment and dilatory tactics of the Tarun Gogoi government, the process to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam will take longer. After reviewing the progress of the work in the light of State NRC coorditor Prateek Hazela’s latest affidavit, the Supreme Court has extended the deadline by two months for publication of the fil NRC. According to the origil schedule, the State government had to publish the draft NRC on October 1 this year and fil NRC on January 1, 2016. Now these two dates have been pushed back to January 1 and March 1 next respectively, as the house-to-house verification work has barely got under way from October 1. According to its judgment on December 17 last year, the Supreme Court had fixed a timeframe of 11 months for the Assam government to update the NRC. By that schedule, the State government should have completed the work of collecting completed NRC application forms in three months from March to May this year. But Dispur scarcely displayed any urgency, deputing totally idequate manpower and resources for the process despite it being funded by the Centre. The State government’s drive to make the people aware about the process was rather late in the day; there were anomalies galore in the crucial phase of helping people locate legacy data and fill up forms in the 2,500 Sewa Kendras operating with rudimentary infrastructure. The writing was on the wall after the Supreme Court, taking note of the very slow pace of submission of completed NRC application forms, had to extend by one month the fil date for submission from July 31 to August 31 last.
In his latest affidavit, Hazela pleaded for more time for the verification process, as it required ‘tedious examition’ of documents submitted. Surely, the process to prepare NRC, or for that matter voter rolls or Aadhar database, is bound to be tedious and complicated. It is the responsibility of the State government to marshal adequate resources to carry out such a vital exercise in proper manner. But the reluctance of the State government to update the NRC properly has been clear from the beginning, legally bound as it was to carry it out under the apex court’s supervision. That the State government intended to keep the door open for yet more delays is apparent in Hazela’s latest affidavit — where it was contended that since government servants will have to be deputed for the coming assembly elections, it may hamper the NRC update exercise. Throwing out this contention, the Supreme Court has pointed out that preparing the NRC is a permanent exercise in which the interest of the country is involved, and assembly elections have nothing to do with it. The State NRC coorditor has therefore been directed to find adequate number of gazetted officers and other employees to carry out the exercise through to its logical conclusion. Hazela will have to submit a NRC progress report to the Supreme Court within a month, which will surely bring out how much work will actually be completed by then. Significantly, the apex court has rejected a plea by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) that Central observers be deputed to monitor the verification process. Putting the onus squarely upon the people, the two-member bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohington Fali riman observed that only when people are alert and involved with the NRC update, can the exercise proceed in the right direction.
The AASU has welcomed the 2-months extension of the fil NRC deadline, considering how vital it is to prepare a correct, foolproof NRC without the mes of illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators. Another petitioner, the Assam Public Works (APWs) had filed an additiol affidavit, pleading that the mes of estimated 24 lakh indigenous people have been left out altogether in the NRC update exercise so far. Referring to 2011 census data as well as the 2015 socio-economic and caste census data, the APW has contended that while there has been an increase in the number of households in the State, as many as 4.32 lakh household have not been covered at all under the NRC exercise. According to the APW, most of these left-out households constituting about 24 lakh people — are indigenous, mostly illiterate or half-educated, and primarily farmers, labourers and daily-wagers. Pleading for more stringent scrutiny of NRC applications to weed out foreigners while thorough house-to-house visit to include the estimated 24 lakh people left out — the APW has in effect petitioned the apex court for more time to complete the exercise in a satisfactory manner. That the Supreme Court has also directed the Central government and the Assam government to submit Action Taken Reports (ATRs) on the recommendations of the Upamanyu Hazarika panel report about the porous Indo-Bangla border, shows that the issue of Bangladeshi influx remains a major factor in preparing a correct NRC for Assam.