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The NRC update challenge

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

D. N. Bezboruah
The exercise of updating the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) is one that most of the other States of the Indian Union have not had to bother about. Since the NRC is an enumeration process that seeks to identify and enlist the Indian citizens of a State, the other States of the Indian Union have had no reasons to be unduly concerned about the correctness of the NRC. States like Tamil du or Kartaka do not have borders with some other country as Assam does, and therefore they have no reasons to be unduly worried about millions of foreign tiols living in the State. On the other hand, a State like Assam has had millions of illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh living in the State, maging to get their mes in the electoral rolls of the State and trying to pass off as Indian citizens. For a State like Assam with such demographic problems some exercise to get the mes of foreign tiols struck off from the electoral rolls had become vital. Now that we have very belatedly got down to the task through an updating of the tiol Register of Citizens of 1951, we are beginning to discover how active the enemies of such an exercise have been over the years. Proof of citizenship of any country has to be backed up with necessary documents. Since millions of foreign tiols have been trying desperately to be listed as Indian citizens over the years, the printing of fake certificates like admit cards for examitions of the Board of Secondary Education, Assam and the Assam Higher Madrasa examition have become lucrative industries in a State that is practically without any real industrial development. As a result, the mes of foreign tiols are there in thousands in both the electoral rolls and the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam.  The NRC has had more than its legitimate share of errors and is now plagued by calamities like faulty legacy ‘trees’. And the very business of updating the NRC that was delayed by the Congress for years, has had more than its predictable share of saboteurs. In fact, had the updating of the NRC not been taken over by the Supreme Court, the work would never have got started even today. The greatest misfortune of the NRC is that it has its enemies both within the Congress and among the Bangladeshis who got their mes included not only in the NRC but also in the electoral rolls. Besides, it was a serious mistake for the Election Commission to have said that it had nothing to do with the updating of the NRC.  Any sensible government agency must do everything possible to benefit from relevant data from all sources. In Assam, the general tendency seems to be to avoid getting involved in any kind of activity outside the domain of one’s allotted duties even when such involvement can provide rich sources of information for better performance of one’s tasks. 
The updating of the tiol Register of Citizens, 1951 in Assam has got into great difficulties largely due to the vested interests that do not want a reliable identification of only Indian citizens living in Assam. Over the years, the Congress won landslide electoral victories in Assam largely on the votes of the illegal migrants from Bangladesh whose mes the party had got into the electoral rolls surreptitiously. One recalls how the Congress maged to keep shifting the dates of all exercises aimed at updating the NRC. At the same time, it was important for the Congress to project the image of a responsible political party as anxious about having a correct list of Indian citizens living in Assam as any other party. Anything short of that could well result in the votes of the genuine Indian citizens of Assam going to other political rivals. So the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government of Assam launched two pilot projects for the exercise of identifying the Indian citizens of the State. The pilot project launched at Barpeta Road resulted in orchestrated violence taking a toll of four lives. This led the Congress government of the day to announce that the exercise was fraught with undertones of serious violence, and could not be continued. And had the Supreme Court not taken a hand in the matter, the entire business of updating the NRC of 1951 might have been abandoned permanently. The Supreme Court’s insistence on the exercise of updating the NRC being taken to a satisfactory conclusion was successful in reviving the work. And now, the Congress, no longer in power, has decided that the politically correct move is to pretend that it had always wanted an updated NRC and had been working for it. Today, former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who had done everything possible to sabotage the identification and enumeration of the Indian citizens of Assam, pretends that he is more anxious than anyone else to see a satisfactory conclusion of the NRC update exercise! 
It is very important to appreciate that the updating of the NRC 1951 is a stupendous task in involving careful scrutiny of crores of documents furnished by millions of Indian citizens living in Assam who are anxious to get their mes included in the updated revised version of the NRC. However, what has made the task infinitely more difficult is the number of enemies of the exercise mainly comprising Bangladeshi tiols who have lived illegally in Assam for several years and are very keen on being granted Indian citizenship at any cost. This difficulty was compounded by the very large number of illegal migrants who had already maged to get their mes included in the NRC of 1951. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the deadline for the fil publication has had to be constantly revised. As things are now, the latest revised deadline for the fil draft of the updated NRC is December 31, 2018. One would not be terribly surprised if in the process of weeding out the mes of non-Indians from the NRC some more time is needed to complete the task.
It is certainly very gratifying to read news reports that the NRC will be free of errors. This is more easily said than achieved. What has made the task more difficult than it need have been is the discovery that the mes of a large number of declared foreigners have figured in the NRC. Pateek Hajela, the State Coorditor the NRC said on Wednesday that the NRC authority will ensure that no mes of foreigners find mention in the updated NRC, and that until the fil NRC is out the authority has full legal provisions to delete any such mes. A question had been raised about a declared foreigner from Lahorighat  in Morigaon district. This is what Prateek Hajela has to say on the issue: “As for the declared foreigner from Lahorighat in Morigaon district, we have found out after inquiry that the list of declared foreigners submitted to us by the border police did not contain his me. In fact, as per the list, there are no declared foreigners from Morigaon district. However we have enough legal provisions to delete such mes if they are really foreigners.” Hajela also said that the NRC update exercise is a continuous process until the fil list is ready, and that if there are any foreigners on the draft list, their mes can be deleted. “We are very cautious. We will put in place an error-free NRC. During verification, we have rejected 4,288 applicants because declared foreigners tried backdoor entry. Another 63,000 D voters’ mes were deleted. Since the fil NRC is yet to be published, any moment the mes of declared foreigners can be deleted,” he added.
One of the problems of updating the NRC relates to the kind of documents that are deemed acceptable for proof of one’s Indian citizenship. As stated earlier, the acceptance of all academic and examition related documents as proof of Indian citizenship has complicated the exercise largely because it is so easy to push well printed fake documents as genuine ones. And since millions of documents have to be examined and verified within a limited time span, this becomes a Herculean task. Even so, as things are now, there is every reason to hope that we shall indeed end up with a comparatively error-free updated NRC by the end of the year, and that the vital task of identifying non-Indians masquerading as Indian citizens in Assam will also be completed to our collective relief and satisfaction. And there should be no reason to doubt that the State Coorditor of the NRC update exercise will do his best to provide an updated NRC that has all the mes of Indian citizens living in Assam and no mes of any foreign tiols.