Assam: Ensure Fair Process of Updating NRC

THE draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam is to be published by December 31, 2017 as per the direction of the Supreme Court of India. The updating of the NRC of 1951 constitutes a key part of the implementation of the Assam Accord of 1985 which had fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for determining illegal migrants who came after that date.

The updating of the NRC is thus a vital step in settling the “foreigners” issue in Assam. It would allay the fears about illegal migration harboured by the Asomiya and indigenous communities. Further, a fair recording of citizens using the March 24, 1971 cut-off date would also end the harassment of people of East Bengal origin, both religious and linguistic minorities.

The upgradation of the NRC is being prepared under the supervision of the Supreme Court. But ever since the BJP-led government took office in Assam, there have been repeated efforts to interfere with the updating process of the NRC. The Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) brought by the central government for granting citizenship to non-Muslim migrants was a serious attempt to undermine the NRC process. Despite all this the work of revision of updating went on.

However, in the recent period, there have been developments which are causing concern and anxiety among certain sections. The panchayat certificate is one of the documents listed for establishing linkages with parents and grandparents who resided in the state before 1971. Over 47 lakh people have submitted panchayat certificates as linkage documents. According to the report of the state coordinator for the NRC to the Supreme Court in October, of the 47 lakh applicants, approximately 17.40 lakh persons are “original inhabitants” whose names will be included in the NRC. The implication is that the status of the 29 lakh others is uncertain. Of these 29 lakh applicants, 27 lakh are married women. These women have submitted panchayat certificates to establish linkages with their parental families. These certificates are countersigned by the concerned revenue officials to establish their status. If these panchayat certificates are not accepted as evidence of linkage, it will jeopardise the status of a large number of genuine citizens.

Moreover, the characterisation of people as “original inhabitants” has no legal basis. It has not been defined in the Citizenship Act of 1955 or by any constitutional authority. The exclusion on the basis of “non-original inhabitants” will target those who have long been settled in Assam from East Bengal, during British rule.

These issues have already created tensions and communal and divisive forces are seeking to exploit them. This can have an adverse impact on the process of updating of the NRC.

It is therefore important that the NRC updating is completed according to the norms and conditions laid down by the Supreme Court. Those who have submitted verified panchayat certificates as supporting documents for the process of linkage, particularly married women, should be included in the NRC. The nebulous definition of “original inhabitants” should not be adhered to. All those who have been residing in Assam before March 25, 1971 or who have established linkage to residents of Assam prior to that date must find their names included in the National Register of Citizens. This will go a long way towards settling the issue of illegal immigrants.

(November 15, 2017)

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