GUWAHATI: Exactly a year ago, as per a directive of the Supreme Court of India, the people of Assam got the final National Register of Citizens(NRC) — an updated version of the 1951 NRC — after 34 years of signing the historic Assam Accord. In the process, while 3,11,21,004 people were found eligible for inclusion, 19,06,657 were found ineligible for inclusion in the NRC. Altogether 3,30,27,661 people, through 68,37,660 applications, had applied for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC.
But the gigantic NRC process that involved mammoth manpower and crores of money to detect illegal Bangladeshis living in the State, has not moved forward much during the last one year.
More than 19 lakh applicants, who were left out of the final NRC, have not been able to file appeals as they are yet to get the 'rejection slips'from the office of State NRC Coordinator.
These'rejection slips', which will mention the reasons for exclusion of an applicant's name, are required for those left out of the NRC to file appeals in the Foreigners' Tribunals (FTs) — a quasi-judicial body that decides the fate of those declared as suspected illegal foreigners.
In November last year, the then State NRC coordinator, PrateekHajela, who had overseen the entire updating process, was transferred to Madhya Pradesh following a Supreme Court order. Even though the Assam Government later appointed senior bureaucrat Hitesh Dev Sarma as the State NRC coordinator, Sarma's joining was delayed due to somereasons. Certaindevelopments hadfurther delayed the process of issuing rejection slips. The entire process literally came to a halt after the COVID-19-driven lockdown was announced in the country in March this year.
Immediately after publication of the final NRC,the Central Government and also the State Government had clarified that those left out of the final NRC list won't be declared as foreigners. The government assured that those left out would have the option of filing appeals within 120 days in the FTs, which will decide their citizenship status based on provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946, and the Foreigner (Tribunals) Order, 1964.
In order to facilitatethe hearingof such appeals filed by those left out of NRC, Dispur had last year appointed members for the 200 newadditional FTs set up across the State. While these new FTs are yet to become operational,the issue of the 'places of posting'of the newly appointed members has not been fixed.Mentionably, the Members of these new FTs had a year-long term, which will be over in September 2020.
The updated NRC was to include the names of all those persons (or their descendants) who were enrolled in the 1951 NRC, or in any of the electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971 (cut-off date as per the Assam Accord to detect and deport illegal Bangladeshis from Assam).Names of foreigners found residing in Assam illegally after the cut-off date, were to be excluded from the updated NRC list.
The demand for identification of illegal Bangladeshis, deletion of their names from the voters' list and their deportation started in 1979, with All Assam Students Union (AASU), spearheading a six-year-long agitation. The agitation ended with signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to identify, detect and deport illegal nationals from the State.
Even though publication of the final updated NRC list was expected to resolve the decades-long burning issue for the detection and deportation of the illegal foreigners residing in Assam, the list was immediately criticized by the ruling BJP in the State. The BJP claimed that many genuine Indians had been left out while illegal immigrants were included in the final NRC.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary told reporters here on Sunday that the State Government had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking 20 per cent re-verification of applicants' names from the districts bordering Bangladesh; and whose names reportedly appeared in the final NRC. He also said that the government also appealed for 10 per cent re-verification of names in the NRC in the other districts.Patowary further reiterated the State Government's demand for a "correct NRC". He said that the 'rejection slips' would be issued once the Registrar General of India (RGI) issued a notification in this regard. The RGI had conducted the NRC update exercise under the Supreme Court's monitoring.
"The people had expected that the final NRC would resolve the decades-long illegal foreigners' issue. But the way things started moving after the NRC was published, we are confused now. With the 2021 Assembly elections round the corner, there will be once again politics on the issue of illegal foreigners," Basanta Hazarika, a resident of Dispur said. He added that only time will decide the fate of the NRC prepared and published by spending crores of tax payers' money.