Inordinate delay in NRC exercise

The citizenship status of 19.06 lakh applicants whose names were excluded from the final published list of the National
Inordinate delay in NRC exercise

The citizenship status of 19.06 lakh applicants whose names were excluded from the final published list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, 2019 is still hanging in balance. Although the process of issuing the rejection slips to those excluded was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic situation, legal complexities faced by the NRC authorities is likely to delay it further. The Registrar General of India (RGI) who is also the Registrar General of Citizens Registration is yet to notify the final NRC list. This has delayed the process of issuing the rejection slips to the excluded applicants. The special provision for preparation of the NRC in Assam under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National identity Cards), Rules, 2003 stipulates that the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration shall, after the disposal of claims and the objections, prepare and publish a supplementary list for inclusion or deletion of names, as the case may be, and thereafter, the Registrar General of Citizens Registration shall publish the final National Register of Indian Citizens in the State of Assam. The revised rules provide that if any person is not satisfied with the outcome of the decisions of the claims and objections, may prefer appeal, before the designated Tribunal constituted under the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, within a period of 120 days from the date of such order. After the disposal of appeal by the Tribunals the names shall be included or deleted, as the case may be, in the updated NRC of Assam. Updating the NRC is a Supreme Court-mandated exercise and huge amount of tax payers' money to the tune of Rs 1220 crore has been spent. The delay in issuing the rejection slips has also pushed the functioning of the 200 newly constituted Foreigners' Tribunals in the state into uncertainty. The new tribunals were set up to cater to the requirement of quick disposal of such a huge volume of appeals to be filed by those excluded. Any further delay on the part of the RGI on notifying the final NRC list runs the risk of rendering huge public money spent in the entire exercise wasteful. Besides, it will also add to the anxiety of lakhs of NRC applicants who have been excluded. Ever since the day of publication of the final list by the NRC authorities they have been suffering the agony of not knowing the reasons behind rejection of their applications and what lies in store for them. In March, the Assam government informed the Assam Assembly that the rejection slips will mention the reasons for exclusion from the NRC list. An estimated 4 lakh people did not apply for inclusion of their names in the updated list. The NRC authorities do not have problem in issuing the rejections slips to them as reason for rejection will be non-submission of requisite papers. However, in respect of over 19 lakh applicants whose names have been excluded there can be no ambiguity in reasons for rejections as they had filed papers along with their applications. If the applicant is not satisfied with the decision of the Foreigners' Tribunal then he or she can move the higher judiciaries. This requires the NRC authorities to ensure that faulty speaking orders are not issued along with the rejection slips. The primary objectives behind updating the NRC in Assam are to identify the post-1971 illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state, delete their names from the electoral rolls and expel them in accordance with the provision of the Assam Accord. The Election Commission has announced the schedule for a special summary revision of photo-electoral rolls, 2021 in the state. Draft electoral rolls will be published on November 16 while claims and objections can be filed from November 16 to December 15. Disposal of claims and objections will be completed by January 5 and the final electoral rolls will be published on January 15. Clearly, the assembly elections in the state which are due in April-May will be conducted on basis of this electoral roll which has no scope for reflecting the outcome of the exercise of updating the NRC. However, use of the NRC data to file objections against inclusion of names in the draft electoral rolls during the month-long process of claims and objections cannot be ruled out. The onus lies with the Election Commission to ensure that no genuine Indian citizens are deprived from voting rights. The Central government has been reiterating its commitments to publication of a correct NRC list. The delay on the part of the RGI in notifying the published list reflects the opposite. Inordinate delay in removal of the legal hurdles for carrying forward the NRC exercise will give handle to the vested forces to create a situation of mistrust and suspicion and disrupt fragile peace in the state. 

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