A massive nationwide debate relating to citizenship and illegal immigrants, including in terms politics, has been triggered by the release of the second and final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) for a state is the list of Indians citizens of that state. For Assam it was first prepared following the 1951 census and legacy data contained in it extends till the electoral roll as of March 1971 (For clarity: The NRC will include the names of all Indian citizens who have been residing in Assam before March 25, 1971)
Updating the NRC: Updation of the NRC for Assam was taken up following a Supreme Court order in 2013 with the objective of weaning out illegal immigrants from neighbouring areas including Bangladesh.
The updation was taken up under the the Citizenship Act of 1955 as per rules framed in the Assam Accord, which was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed in 1985 between the government of India and leaders of the Assam Movement -- a six-year-long agitation by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) that was held in New Delhi demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. In 2005, a meeting to review the implementation of the Assam Accord chaired by then PM Manmohan Singh had also decided to update the NRC.
The NRC draft: The first draft of the NRC was released on January 1, 2018. It had contained 1.9 crore names from a total applicant pool of 3.29 crore. Monday's list, however, found 2.89 crore people eligible while 40.07 lakh names were left out. As per the exercise, which was directly monitored by the Supreme Court, those who have entered Assam after March 24, 1971, will be viewed as illegal immigrants.
The list isn't final. As per the Home Minister's submissions in Parliament on Monday. There will be a claims and objections process that will begin after August 30 and will be filed over 2-3 months. The claims and objections process will be disposed of under the guidance of the Supreme Court. Following this, there are at least two levels of appeals, including an administrative level and a foreigners tribunal. Rajnath Singh expressed that as per the process, 'at some point or the other, justice will be delivered'.
During the process of claims and objections, the people whose names have been left out of the Assam NRC will be able to apply for their cases to be reconsidered. Till then, those names that have been left out would not yet be labelled as 'foreigners' or face detention. However, only those applicants who had submitted their applications before the 2015 deadline will be considered.
While announcing the second list, Shri Shailesh, Registrar General of India, said the process was completely transparent, fair and meticulously carried out. He also said that those who were found ineligible can file claims and objections.
"It is a draft NRC, not the final NRC. There may be objection into draft NRC. People will get ample opportunity to file claims and objections," he said.
The Congress has alleged that the BJP government is trying to polarise Assam. Assam Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ripun Bora said that people haven't been counted on flimsy grounds and that they (the Congress) would continue to work for the 40 lakh people who haven't been included.
Former Assam Chief Minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi said:
"I'm both happy and sad. Happy that it was my brainchild but sad that many genuine Indians have been left out. I am not politicising the issue, I'm raising concern for these 40 lakh people. It's my job as a politician to raise it."
Trinamool Congress chief and WB Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has taken major exception over the matter, alleging in a news briefing that many Bengalis, as well as people from other states, had been excluded from the list, asking "There are people from other states. Do we call them illegal migrants? She cast doubt on the basis of the exclusion, accusing the BJP of playing divide and rule and saying that in many cases the excluded persons even have proper documentation including Aadhaar cards and Passports. She scrutinised the development in reference to religion as well, claiming that both Hindus and Muslims had been excluded.
"There are Bengalis in Maharashtra. Are they staying there illegally?"
"We share a border with Bangladesh. We speak the same language. That's why we're concerned."
She accused the government in the matter: "They (those excluded) are Indians but Central government has made them refugees", adding "We don't blame Supreme Court, we respect its order."
She also hit out over the additional security that had been provided in the state in anticipation of the NRC draft, saying: "Today, when Derek O'Brien (TMC MP) brought up the issue, the Home Minister said that the Trinamool Congress and Congress are trying to create a panic. Then why has the Centre deployed additional force and shut down the network? They are trying to deport Bengalis and Biharis."
"Where will these 40 lakh people go now? I'll request the Home Minister to save them", she said in reference to her upcoming two-day visit to the national capital, finally adding, "I'm sending a team of MPs to Assam. I might go as well."
As the West Bengal Chief Minister had mentioned, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, speaking on the matter in Parliament, said that the matter had existed before the Modi government came into power and sought to clarify that the exercise was conducted under the guidance of the Supreme Court with no involvement of the Centre.
"I appeal to the house that this is a sensitive issue. The government isn't doing anything here. Whatever is happening is happening under the supervision of the Supreme Court. I appeal to the Opposition to state explicitly how we have done anything. This matter shouldn't be politicised."
To Rajnath Singh's challenge to the Opposition parties over establishing the Central government's role, Mamata Banerjee's response was to ask why the government hadn't opposed it.
"Where will the 40 lakh people whose names have been deleted go? Does the Centre have any rehabilitation program for them? Request Home Minister to bring in an amendment", Mamata Banerjee said
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said: "In this regard the people of Assam have extended their full support. It's a draft only."
"The state and central governments have extended their support to the Supreme Court in the matter. We hope that the process will be completed with the support of the people. I request everyone to maintain peace and tranquility", Sonowal added
You can visit your respective NRC Sewa Kendra on all working days from 10 am to 4 pm from July 30 to September 28
You can also check the status online. Type ARN and send it to 9765556555.
You can also call these toll-free numbers 15107 (from Assam) or 18003453762 (outside Assam)
If a person's name does not appear in the draft then he or she will have to apply in prescribed forms in their respective Sewa Kendras. These forms will be available from August 7 to September 28 and the authorities will inform them about the reason for their names being left out.