NRC, or the National Register of Citizens, is a register containing names of all the genuine residents of the country. First prepared in 1951, it was updated recently for the state of Assam. Assam has been facing the problem of illegal refugees since a very long time. This has changed the demography of the state. The people of Assam and various other organizations have been staging protests against this for more than three decades now. The Assam movement which started in 1979 was mainly based on this issue. They demanded the detection and deportation of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. This 6 years long movement finally came to an end in 1985 after the signing of the Assam Accord with the Government of India.
PURPOSE OF NRC
The purpose of NRC is to identify Indian citizens and illegal immigrants from among all the residents of the state. All those who entered Assam after 24th march, 1971, will be considered as illegal immigrants. However, the fate of those who will not be able to get their names in the register, is uncertain and is now a matter under judicial and legislative consideration. Many people who have been longstanding citizens of Assam have not been able to get their names in the register, and this has created a lot of problems in the state.
To get themselves registered, applicants have to submit documents to prove that their names appeared in the NRC of 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls of Assam till 1971. This exercise is monitored by the supreme court and began in September 2015 under the Tarun Gogoi led congress government. It was taken forward by the Sarbananda Sonowal led BJP government after it came to power in 2016. It involves many steps- receiving applications, verification, publication of the first draft, publication of the complete draft, receipt and disposal of claims and objections, and finally, the publication of the final list.
ROLE OF SUPREME COURT
The process of detecting and expelling immigrants suffered from many problems. The first attempt at NRC was a pilot project in two tehsils, one in Kamrup district and one in Barpeta district in the year 2010. This project had to be aborted within 4 weeks because it created a huge law and order problem including involving a mob attack on the office of the deputy commissioner, Barpeta that resulted in police firing killing 4 persons. The NRC was then considered almost an impossible task by the government agencies.
The Assam Public works and Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha & Ors filed two writ petitions, in regards to which the supreme court asked the Assam government to retake the task in 2013. The supreme court headed by the bench of justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Nariman, mandated the union and state government to complete the updation of NRC. In all parts of Assam, the registrar general of India notified the commencing of the updation.
Since then, the Supreme Court had been holding regular hearings on representation made to it by various interested parties. The supreme court requires the Government to complete the task within the stipulated time period. The Supreme Court had appointed Prateek Hajela, an IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh as the State Coordinator for NRC.
PUBLICATION OF THE FINAL LIST
The government published the first draft of the NRC on 31st December 2017 and the final draft was released on 30th July 2018. In this draft, names of 40,07,707 people were excluded from the list. The final list of the NRC was published on 31st August, 2019 creating a lot of hue and cry. Out of the 3.29 crore applicants, 19,06,659 people were excluded. What’s surprising is that every section of people in Assam is unsatisfied with the results. The BJP believes that more Hindu Bangladeshis rather than Muslim Bangladeshis have been excluded and they want to bring a legislation to protect genuine citizens (the Hindus). Meanwhile, the Congress leaders have stated that genuine citizens have been excluded from the list and that they’ll stand by these people. What’s funny is how the concept of a “genuine citizen” differs from party to party. On the other hand, the AGP, a popular regional party in Assam and some other regional parties are unsatisfied with the list because they believe that the number of excluded people is very small in comparison to the actual number of migrants.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE EXCLUDED
Those who were excluded have been given 120 days to challenge their exclusion at the Foreigners’ Tribunal. In every district, there is at least one Foreigners’ Tribunal to receive appeals from those excluded. The Election Commission has recently announced that until and unless a person is declared a foreigner, he or she can vote.
The NRC has created a huge opposition to it as many long standing citizens have been excluded from it. The BJP even used the promise of removing all illegal immigrants from Assam as a mandate to win the election. The passing of the Citizenship amendment bill, which gives citizenship to Hindu immigrants but not the Muslims have also added fuel to the fire as many Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam are non Muslims. The NRC is now being considered by many as a wastage of money and time because it wasn’t as successful as the people thought it to be.
By Adriana Kashyap