The objective of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) 1951 is to prepare an authentic list of bona-fide Indian citizens in Assam. This will then help identify illegal Bangladeshi immigrants who are foreigners but who with political patronage have been put on Assam’s electoral rolls as Indian citizens. All persons whose names appear in the NRC 1951 and the electoral rolls of 1952 up to the midnight of March 24, 1971, along-with their descendents are eligible for inclusion in the revised NRC. All other bona-fide Indian citizens living in Assam are also eligible for inclusion on the basis of prescribed documents. All illegal immigrants who have entered Assam from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971, are not eligible for inclusion. In Assam the NRC is being updated under Rule 4A of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens & Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. Accordingly citizenship is to be determined based on the NRC 1951 and the electoral rolls up to the mid-night of March 24, 1971.
Besides a copy of the NRC 1951 or electoral rolls up to 1971 twelve other documents have been prescribed. Any one of them must be submitted along-with the application form to prove nativity, parental linkage or citizenship to be included in the revised NRC. Moreover, a married woman must submit a certificate from the Circle Officer/ Gram Panchayat secretary or a ration card from her place of origin. However, for a majority who are barely literate filling up the form and arranging the prescribed documents has been a harrowing experience and middlemen are exploiting them for money.
This reliance on traditional roots rather than an official document for identity proof has today disqualified a sizable section of Assam’s population from inclusion in the NRC. Yet they are the sons of the soil belonging to the indigenous tribes and ethnic communities. They are the tea garden labourers, khilonjia (indigenous) muslims, sikhs, marwaris etc who have lived in Assam for centuries. Several organisations have raised the demand for their direct inclusion in the NRC on the grounds of nativity. The demand is justified and must be accepted subject to verification of such persons.
Apart from the Citizenship Rules 2003, section 6A of the Citizenship Act 1955 also governs the NRC updating process. Under the section all illegal immigrants who have come to Assam before March 25, 1971, and registered themselves with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer and are ordinarily residents of Assam are deemed Indian citizens and eligible for inclusion in the NRC. How many immigrants have followed these rules is debatable because they freely come and go clandestinely according to their needs.
Some political parties and organisations have objected to the cut-off date of March 25 1971 because of vote bank politics. Perhaps the Supreme Court’s (SC) observations on the issue will make them reconsider. The SC has expressed serious reservations about allowing illegal immigrants who have not given up their citizenship of Bangladesh to become deemed citizens of India, thus giving them dual citizenship.
It has also stated that giving citizenship to such persons is arbitrary because their residency in Assam cannot be determined as there is no record of their entry into the State. Moreover it holds that the section violates the rule of law in that it gives way to political expediency and not governance according to the law. Under the Constitution anyone who has come to India from erstwhile East Pakistan/Bangladesh after July 19, 1948, is a foreigner. The SC has directed that every person whose citizenship is in doubt should be brought under the purview of the Foreigners Act 1946.
The SC which is monitoring the NRC updating process has set a strict deadline for publishing the final revised NRC by January 2016. However so far the work is behind schedule and there are apprehensions that the NRC may not be ready before the 2016 assembly elections. The elections may then have to be conducted with the existing faulty voters’ lists which will only benefit certain political parties.
If so, then at the end of the present State government’s term instead of holding elections with the faulty electoral rolls, President’s rule should be imposed to complete the NRC revision. An authentic NRC and correct voters’ list is crucial for the future socio-political stability of Assam.
Pranjit Agarwala (The writer is Guwahati based freelance journalist) (August 9, 2015, Page 28)