The Supreme Court monitored exercise to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is in danger of getting hopelessly bogged down. The standoff has given another issue for political parties to indulge in endless posturing, very much like clause 6 of Assam Accord about ‘Assamese’ definition that remains an open question after three decades. In fact, it is the Assam Accord that mandated an updated NRC so that foreigners coming to Assam from 1966 to 24 March, 1971 can be regularized, and those coming after be deported. Now the Assam government has decided, in the interest of a ‘faultless’ NRC, to re-verify all documents submitted during the NRC update process. This means scrutinizing 6.5 crore documents again, which was already a massive task to begin with. The State government now suspects that the entire process has been compromised with a large number of applicants submitting fake documents and legacy data. Significantly, while the re-verification work will be conducted across Assam, nine minority-domited districts will be particularly under scanner to prevent such malpractices again. As a precaution, no official will be allowed to verify documents he has checked earlier. However, it remains to be seen how the State government will now keep tabs on village chiefs, who earlier performed much of verification work on the ground — with NRC officials reportedly staying away after receiving threats. Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has directed all deputy commissioners to weekly review progress of NRC exercise, while appointing a team of 40 senior officials to move across districts to supervise the verification work. At the top, NRC State coorditor Prateek Hajela will no longer get a free hand, with the Chief Minister appointing a high-power 8-member panel between Hajela and the cabinet sub-committee; in turn, it will be the cabinet sub-committee that will take up NRC issues with the Supreme Court.
Earlier, nearly 11 lakh NRC applications have been sent to the Election Commission, over 3 lakh applications to other states and some 15 lakh PAN cards to the Union Fince Ministry for verification. The progress in verifying these applications by the EC and other states has been so slow that the apex court had to ask the authorities concerned to get moving. This apart, the 1951 NRC had not included large sections of tribal people, as well as adivasis and tea tribes. The new State government had to provide concrete assurances that no indigenous people will be left out. Due to such difficulties, it is well nigh certain that after missing the March 31 deadline last year, the same deadline this year too will be missed with verification work practically set to begin afresh. There can be no question of compromising with an error-free NRC in a State where lakhs of foreigners have become entrenched and gained political patroge. It is common knowledge how a deeply unwilling Congress government had to be prodded repeatedly by the Supreme Court to begin the NRC exercise, how it dragged its feet every step of the way. Now the Congress in opposition, along with Left parties and other organizations in the State are alleging that the BJP-led government in Assam is hell bent in delaying the NRC exercise, until the rendra Modi government at the Centre gets the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed in Parliament. Once that hurdle is crossed, Hindu Bangladeshis in Assam will become Indian citizens, and the State government wants to ensure they are not left out of an updated NRC Opposition parties and other organizations the State government wants to ensure they are not left out of the updated NRC — allege Opposition parties and aggrieved organizations. Suspicions of such a ‘conspiracy’ has been roused by the recent decision of the State cabinet sub-committee to include mes of descendants of Hindu Bangladeshi migrants, marked ‘D’ (doubtful) voters and declared foreigners, in the updated NRC. Two youth organizations have already sought the Supreme Court’s intervention to set aside this decision as violative of Assam Accord. Since a joint parliamentary committee is presently reviewing the amendment bill, it is not likely to be passed soon; and even if it does, it is likely to be challenged in the apex court as bad in law. The task to prepare an updated NRC should be kept separate from amending citizenship laws. Else, the State will be saddled with yet another issue for endless politicking.