It is no exaggeration to say that in some ways, Assam is a special case among Indian states, just as J&K is in a different context. Assam was the only state in which the IM(DT) Act of 1983 was made applicable to detect foreigners. By shifting the burden of proof on the complaint and the police, that mischievous law made detection of foreigners all but impossible. Assam is also the only state in which the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951 is being updated, that too because the country’s highest court has taken upon itself the burden of monitoring its progress. And from the latest hearing in the Supreme Court, the picture that is emerging is of a very handicapped exercise. It remains mired in delays, with official apathy at various levels making it worse. Though the apex court had ordered back in October 2014 that NRC work be completed by January 2016, it only got going in February last year; presently, verifying documents and tracing family trees are proving to be the most daunting tasks. In the latest status report submitted by NRC State Coorditor Prateek Hajela, the apex court has been informed that the cost of the update exercise has escalated from the budgeted Rs 288 crore to Rs 908.7 crore. This is more than a three-fold increase, and now the exercise is left with mo funds. Rs 337.73 crore released by the Central government has been used up, while Assam government is supposed to keep aside Rs 249 crore if the need arises. So the SC bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and RF riman directed the Union ministries of Fince and Home Affairs to release additiol funds, and if necessary, in instalments. Let us remember that this is an enormous exercise in which nearly 55,000 State government employees have been engaged, along with several thousand contractual workers. Political parties like Congress and BJP have liberally used the NRC issue to score points against each other; it promises to be a fertile ground for more political posturing once the draft NRC comes about.
It has been left for Upamanyu Hazarika, whose one-man commission report laid bare before the Supreme Court the serious dimensions of illegal migration from Bangladesh — to point out that the NRC will actually end up legitimizing a large number of Bangladeshi migrants. That is how the amended citizenship law stands, which confers citizenship by birth to all those who came to India before July 1, 1987 even if both parents are foreigners, and to those who came after till December 3, 2004 with one parent being a foreigner. The present NDA government at the Centre wants to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 to make citizens of religious minorities (read Hindus) from countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan. But would it take a leaf out of the Vajpayee-led NDA regime that commendably tightened the citizenship law in 2004, and planned compulsory registration of all citizens and issuing tiol identity cards to them? Enthusiastically adopting the UPA’s UIDAI project, the Modi government has gone all out to push Aadhar cards for identity purpose and as a medium to transfer economic benefits. As on April this year, more than 93 percent of the country’s population has been covered with around 5 lakh enrolments every day. But the Aadhar card is for residents of India; obviously, the paperwork required is not as exhaustive as for inclusion into NRC. It turns out that the NRC authority in Assam has sent over 10.8 lakh documents to the Election Commission for verification but has received no response. As for 14.8 lakh PAN cards sent to the Union Fince ministry, verification of only 6.5 lakh cards was done. If this is the sort of response from Central entities — not surprisingly, of 30.59 lakh documents sent to 28 States for verification, there have been only 8,223 responses. The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the EC, Union Ministries and other States to take the NRC exercise in Assam seriously and file responses. Assam is therefore ploughing a lone furrow with the massive and complicated NRC exercise. But the Centre and other States may one day need Assam’s experience if the decision is taken to scale up from Aadhar card to the proposed tiol Population Register (NPR) card, which will only be a step away from a universal NRC card.