On several occasions, Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has assured that expediting the NRC update exercise is top priority for his government. He has said so forcefully at the Assembly; he has also been asking DCs to keep tabs on the exercise in their districts and devote at least a couple of hours daily to it. The State budget this year also earmarked nearly Rs 250 crore for NRC works. Minister Chandramohan Patwary had to remind a member in the House that if some Foreigners Tribuls are not accepting documents submitted by NRC applicants as evidence, then it is because the process is still ongoing to verify the documents. The difficulties Assam government is having in verifying such documents bring to light several negativities slowing down the entire exercise. The submission of NRC application forms was completed in August last, but that part of the exercise has been nothing to what officials are presently going through. The number of applicants stood at a little over 60 lakh; the documents submitted alongwith numbered 5.98 crore. Forged documents are now cropping up aplenty, with over 130 police complaints lodged till date by NRC officials. Legacy data of ancestors have been faked in many cases so that dozens, sometimes hundreds of people have reportedly claimed one person as forefather. In the absence of other supporting records, examining the veracity of family trees is a complicated task in itself. Then there are faked birth certificates, usually HSLC admit cards, furnished to show that the applicant was born in this State. The massive racket in forging this document involved a section of corrupt Education officials, egged on fully by political quarters favoring the immigrant bloc. Guwahati MP Bijoya Chakravarty raised this issue in the Lok Sabha recently, when she said that the government should maintain tight vigilance as already 20,000 forged documents have been detected and 28 persons arrested so far.
In a country where government departments have been invariably slipshod in maintaining proper records, the Assam government is having a tough time getting other states to respond to its NRC works. Nearly 2.69 lakh NRC related documents have been furnished by people settling in Assam from other parts of India. Their documents have to be sent back to their origil states for verification, but states like Bengal, Bihar and even neighboring NE states have been extremely tardy for months altogether in verifying these documents on their side. Their indifference threatens to hold up the NRC exercise here. Most of these states have never had a large proportion of foreigners in their populations, so Assam’s drive to update its tiol Register of Citizens does not concern them overmuch. Other states too are building up their population databases, the major effort being the Aadhaar campaign. Several states are near complete coverage, with Delhi and Telenga even recording above 100% coverage as per latest UIADAI data. But then, Aadhaar card is for residents — so the requirement for documents is lesser than for citizens. Assam is therefore ploughing a lonely furrow, burdened with a crushing foreigners problem, and having a gargantuan task identifying the citizens. Even if this exercise is completed, the foreigners problem will not go away anytime soon. Advocate Upamanyu Hazarika, who submitted a report on the porous Indo-Bangla border as the Supreme Court’s one-man commission, has pointed out that the updated NRC will simply confer citizenship on lakhs of children born to illegal immigrants in Assam. This is because though the NRC exercise is based on March 25, 1971 as cut-off date specified in the Assam Accord, it will practically shift to December 3, 2004 for such people — thanks to successive Central governments tinkering with the country’s citizenship laws. The Modi government’s move in the current parliamentary session to give citizenship to Hindu immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, will strike another hefty blow to the NRC process in Assam. With one stroke, it will make citizens of lakhs of refugees here; their burden will mostly be on Assam. The Sonowal government will have to look farther than the NRC exercise, and move proactively to safeguard land and other rights of indigenous people, if it is to remain true to its mandate.