The Tarun Gogoi government may strive mightily to backpedal and derail the NRC update exercise, but the apex court of the country is holding firm. The Supreme Court on Wednesday again made it clear that it will continue to monitor the exercise closely, that the deadline to publish the draft tiol Register of Citizens remains January 1, 2016. So Dispur’s mischievous attempt to get this exercise embroiled in a thicket of legal complications, procedural hassles and law and order problems has been foiled at the apex court yet again. Most significantly, the Supreme Court has reiterated that March 24, 1971 will stay as the cut-off date, rejecting the interim affidavit by the Assam government as well as the pleas of some organisations that the 2014 electoral rolls should be included as an additiol document for NRC. As of now, an applicant has to establish linkage in the NRC form with a bofide ancestor whose me figured in the 1951 NRC or the electoral rolls of 1966 or 1971. So seeking to dilute this NRC ‘legacy’ norm by citing the 2014 rolls replete with the mes of lakhs and lakhs of illegal migrants, straightaway threatens to render the entire NRC update exercise meaningless. Rather than spending so much time, effort and money in preparing an updated NRC, the government may as well convert the latest electoral rolls into the NRC and be done with it!
Such an absurdity would not have been tolerated in any other country, or state for that matter. But Assam is a special, if very unfortute, case. After actively encouraging illegal migration from Bangladesh to this State and forming governments in Dispur with their votes, political parties must repay that ‘debt’ and ensure their continued survival. So there was nothing surprising in the recent recommendation by the Bhumidhar Barman-led cabinet panel, advocating for the 2014 rolls to be accepted in the NRC exercise. The Tarun Gogoi government then put forward that recommendation in the Supreme Court with a specious piece of logic — that all electoral rolls from 1985 to 2014 should be taken as additiol documents, since the 1985 rolls was prepared on the basis of the 1971 rolls! So the State government was not trying to deviate from the NRC modalities decided in the tripartite meet of 2005, the Chief Minister had claimed. But this argument failed to convince the apex court. As for the difficulties in searching for legacy data by people belonging to indigenous communities and tea tribes, the Supreme Court has provided a much welcome relief by ruling that they may file any document acceptable to the NRC authority, and the Registrar General of India (RGI) may file the appropriate directive in this regard. Similarly, Indian citizens migrating from other states to Assam after 24 March, 1971, can now apply for NRC by furnishing documents proving their stay elsewhere in the country. As for any other problems arising out of modalities for NRC update, the Supreme Court has constituted a three-member panel of former judges to address it. This is surely heartening for genuine citizens, particularly those who are indigenous to the State, whose interests a fool-proof NRC ought to guarantee.
Once the genuine difficulties faced by indigenous communities, tea tribes, bofide Indian citizens from other states and common people are taken care of thanks to the Supreme Court, any problem remaining will likely be that of non-citizens trying by hook or crook to register themselves as citizens. So the attempt by mischievous quarters to club the problems of citizens with non-citizens and thereby throw the entire NRC exercise into discredit, will hopefully be isolated and exposed in the coming days. One particularly thorny issue has been referred by the apex court to its Constitution bench. It deals with the challenge to Section 3A of the amended Citizenship Act, questioning whether citizenship can be granted to children of illegal migrants whose mes do not figure in the 1971 or earlier rolls. In its origil form, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955 granted citizenship by birth to every person born in the country on or before 26th January, 1950 provided at the time of birth, either of his parents was a citizen of India. After Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord in 1985 providing for deportation of Bangladeshi migrants coming after 1971, his own government amended the citizenship law two years later — providing for blanket citizenship to all born in India on or after 26th January, 1950 to 1st July, 1987. Since far more Bangladeshis were born in Assam than those who infiltrated, the death blow was well and truly struck to the Assam Accord. A subsequent amendment in 2003 re-introduced the restriction of at least one parent to be Indian (between 1 July, 1987 to 3 December, 2004) and later onwards to both parents being Indian or one parent being Indian and the other ‘not an illegal migrant’. With the citizenship issue growing so complicated, it will require the Constitution bench to resolve it. What stands the Central government and Assam government take in the apex court will be vital for the future of Assam in the coming days.