It is indeed unfortunate that the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 should be plagued with so many unexpected problems that have considerably delayed its timely completion. The deadline for the completion of the work has had to be revised time and again largely because of these unexpected problems. One of the problems right from the beginning of the work was the large number of foreign nationals who had tried to get their names included in the NRC with the help of fake or forged documents to establish their Indian identity and their assumed addresses. A great deal of investigative work has had to be done in an exercise that should normally have been no more than the enumeration of the names of Indian citizens living in Assam. It is the mischief of a large number of foreign nationals doing their utmost to get their names entered in the updated NRC that has been a very major irritant and a cause of delay of the work. And now we have the additional problem of verification of the names of people of this State living and working in other States of India that has assumed a problem of serious dimensions. This is largely because the normal culture of work in government offices of almost all Indian States is marked by lethargy and procrastination. If the work is related to the State’s own government it is often possible for officers entrusted with the work to speed up matters to a certain extent. But the verification of documents relating to people from Assam working in other States is generally considered to be work with a low priority that can be kept pending. And anything related to a State like Assam is likely to get an even lower priority than similar requests from other States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. As such, most of the requests made to other States for verification of documents relating to people from Assam are likely to be kept pending indefinitely. What is indeed unfortunate is that even a directive from the Supreme Court in this regard has not had the desired effect in speeding up verification of documents related to the updating of the NRC of Assam. On March 27, the Supreme Court had directed all chief secretaries of different Indian States to send the results of the verification of documents issued by their States and Union Territories to the NRC State Coordinator of Assam expeditiously so that the process of upgrading the NRC in the State could be completed within the time schedule. Likewise, the Supreme Court had also issued directions to the various issuing authorities of the banks concerned, the UIDAI (Aadhaar), the Central Board of Secondary Education, the Ministry of External Affairs as well as various Central and State government departments to send their verification reports to the Assam NRC Coordinator. The apex court had also permitted the State NRC Coordinator to complete the process of investigations through investigations made by district magistrates through house-to-house re-verifications that should be completed by May 31 this year. On Monday, the State NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela had said, “We are awake to the situation and are readying for our task. By the first week of May we will see if the verification documents from other States and Union Territories arrive. If we don’t receive any, we will get the work done through district magistrates’ verification as suggested by the Supreme Court because all such verification will have to be done on or before May 31. As per the Supreme Court’s directive, the second and final NRC draft has to be published on June 30.”
While we are aware that the updating of the NRC has been taken up on a war footing, the fact remains that we cannot ignore what is likely to happen in a country like India and especially in a State like Assam. Nor can one ignore the fact that those opposed to the successful updating of the NRC are numerous. It is, therefore, not unlikely that some of the verification of lakhs of documents may remain incomplete even by the extended deadline. It will certainly not be possible for the Coordinator of the NRC to keep requesting for extension of deadlines indefinitely. As such, in some cases where the document verification is incomplete despite the best of efforts, it might be necessary to devise a means of indicating that the verification of documents could not be completed despite all possible efforts. This would be preferable to excluding the name of an individual from the updated NRC due to doubts about the correctness of information regarding the individual. It would perhaps be preferable to indicate (in those rare cases) that the information could not be verified despite all possible efforts.
Everyone in Assam is aware of how difficult and Herculean the task of updating the NRC has been. At the same time, people are also aware of how important a correctly updated NRC is for the State and its people. Many people are of the view that the tasks of including the names of everyone of the State who is an Indian national and ensuring that no names of foreigners figure in the updated NRC are far more important than minor inaccuracies of information relating to the people listed in the updated NRC. They are also aware of how important an updated and corrected NRC is for a State like Assam where forces alien to the interests and welfare of the indigenous people of Assam have joined hands in conspiring to turn the Assamese people into a minority in their own State. That is precisely why it is so important to ensure that we have an updated NRC that is entirely correct and reliable.