As the 31st December deadline looms for publication of draft tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, a concerted effort from several quarters have begun to derail the process altogether. After trying to state the obvious that “no genuine citizen” be left out of the NRC being updated, these quarters are now raising a hue and cry over the ‘origil inhabitant (OI)’ tag, demanding that it should be scrapped forthwith in categorising citizens. It is another matter that the OI tag will not be there at all when the draft and fil NRCs will be brought out, a fact reiterated umpteen times by the NRC authority. So why the hullabaloo now over OI status? This is because in the NRC verification phase, the registering authority is mandated under existing citizenship rules to ascertain whether a person is ‘origil inhabitant (OI)’, ‘doubtful voter (DV)’ or ‘declared foreigner (DF). This information will be appended in the ‘Remark’ column in the verification team report (VTR). Should this ‘Remark’ column be done away with? Back in 2015, both the Congress and the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU) had made this demand separately before a two-member Judges’ Committee constituted by the Supreme Court to thresh out various legal issues associated with the NRC process. Had this demand been accepted then, the task of identifying citizens would have been completely straitjacketed. The argument put forward was that the term ‘origil inhabitant’ itself was not defined, and its use will create divisions among those included in the updated NRC. Rejecting these arguments, the Judges’ Committee had on January 2016 explained “in plain English” what the term ‘origil inhabitant’ meant — with ‘origin’ indicating the country, race or social status of a person, and ‘inhabitant’ indicating that the person is a permanent inhabitant of a place or region.
Emphasizing upon the solemn duty and responsibility of the registering duty in ascertaining whether a person is a citizen of India, the Judges Committee had enjoined that this must be done by strictly complying with statutory provisions, ‘without any shadow of doubt to the full satisfaction of the authority concerned’. In this context, the Judges Committee had also rejected the AAMSU’s demand to allow ‘D’ voters and their offspring to be included in NRC, referring to the October 2013 Supreme Court ruling which had laid down clearly that the mes of ‘D’ voters cannot be included in NRC unless they are declared citizens by Foreigners Tribuls. Now such a demand could have been raised only from Assam — that irrespective of the serious ture of the country’s register of citizens, mes of voters whose very citizenship is in doubt, should be rammed in pell-mell into NRC. This attitude is a tural corollary of the mockery allowed to be made of electoral rolls, now hopelessly riddled with the mes of foreigners. It happened over because India has been turned into a soft State by political parties, which have played fast and loose with constitutiol provisions governing citizenship matters — merely to keep votebanks (and their grip on power) intact. The contours of a sinister agenda to scupper NRC are now emerging — raise the OI tag issue once again to muddy the waters, then ensure that either the NRC includes the mes of all with doubtful claims to citizenship, or does not come out at all. These efforts gained urgency after the State NRC Coorditor in a report to Supreme Court last month stated that of the 47 lakh applicants claiming inclusion in NRC on the basis of certificates issued by gaon panchayat secretaries, approximately 17.4 lakh are ‘origil inhabitants’ and the registering authority “is satisfied with regard to their citizenship”. This was at once greeted with a coordited chorus questioning how the State NRC Coorditor could find out who an ‘origil inhabitant’ is. This, despite the Citizenship Rules of 2003 clearly enjoining [under Rule 3(3) of Rule 4A] that the mes of persons who are origil inhabitants of Assam and their progeny — shall be included in the consolidated list, provided that their citizenship is ascertained beyond reasoble doubt. If the votaries of illegal immigrants in Assam have their way, questions like who is a citizen, and who among citizens are indigenous people — will never ever be resolved, even if the country has laws that can settle these questions. This besides, there is a clear move by these quarters to forestall any ‘origil’ or ‘indigenous’ people tag, and thereby chances of getting various safeguards, to sons of the soil. After all, it is the land of indigenous people that have been gobbled up by infiltrators over decades; while welfare scheme benefits that should have gone to sons of the soil have been systematically hijacked. The apex court this month will be taking up the question of acceptability of panchayat certificates, but already some quarters and political parties have begun to talk about “dire consequences” if these documents are rejected. Such attempts to exert indirect pressure on the highest court of the land should be resisted strongly.