On July 23, India’s Supreme Court extended by one month its deadline for completing the preparation of the final National Citizen's Register in Assam from July 31 to August 31. The exercise, mandated by the top court, was put on the fast track by the top court in 2015 with the objective of weeding out illegal immigrants and ensure only genuine Indian citizens reside in the state. But the process of updating the NRC has been marred by charges of irregularities in inclusion and exclusion of names in the NRC as was evident from the submissions made the Indian and Assam governments before the apex court while pressing for sample re-verification of a certain percentage of names.
The extension of the timeline for publication of the final NRC was expected apparently because of the flood in large areas of Assam hampering the NRC updating work . The apex court, however, rejected the pleas of the federal Indian government and the Assam state authorities for sample re-verification of 20 percent of the names included in the NRC in Assam’s districts bordering Bangladesh and ten percent in the remaining districts to rectify the “wrongful inclusions and exclusions” of names during the NRC updating.
Attorney General K K Venugopal contended the names of several illegal immigrants have been included in the NRC. Similarly, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represented Assam government in the matter in the Supreme Court, attributed the inclusions to local influence and suggested NRC officials might have been hesitant to delete their names from the list. Venugopal also drew the apex court’s attention to the fact that the court, in its order in August, 2018, had favoured a re-verification of ten per cent of the names. He said that since there “was some variance” in enumeration in Assam’s districts bordering Bangladesh, a re-verification exercise would set at rest doubts.
When the final draft NRC was made public in July 2018, names of slightly over 40 lakh people did not find any mention in it, causing a major row. In June this year, another about one lakh people were excluded from the final draft list of Indian citizens. NRC officials say the names were excluded as part of the continuous process of checks and re-verification. Had the demand for sample re-verification been accepted by the Supreme Court, it could have probably led to exclusion of more names from the final NRC.
As Shah has more than once stated in his public
engagements, his government plans to take
the story of NRC beyond Assam to other parts of India.
The important question is one must get a clear answer
if the NRC is a livelihood issue or a nationhood
issue or about both? Also, what will be the future
of those who find themselves out of the NRC?
During the previous hearing in the case last week, the Assam government had told the apex court that it has received complaints about the alleged connivance of local-level NRC officials conducting the NRC updating exercise to include and exclude the names and hence its demand for sample re-check. But the NRC Coordinator did not agree and said these officials were not drawn from local areas. In its July 10 report to the Supreme Court, the Coordinator has said that 27 per cent re-verification of names, which translates to 80 lakh in real terms, had taken place in the process of deciding on the claims for inclusion in the final NRC and objection to those claims. The Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justice R F Nariman accepted Hajela’s view and made it clear that “the court does not feel the need for re-verification of the draft NRC. We are more than satisfied with the work done in the state.”
Some mistakes and irregularities in NRC updating process are perhaps only expected when such a huge exercise is so heavily reliant on the bureaucracy. It has also been argued by the authorities in the apex court that many genuine original inhabitants of Assam remained outside the NRC because they did not have adequate documents to prove their places of birth or legacy papers. This points to a big lacunae in India when it comes documenting its people: lack of a proper documentation culture. One of the main reasons for India introducing the multi-purpose Aadhar identity card is precisely to end the absence of documentation.
On July 17, Home Minister Amit Shah told the Rajya Sabha, upper House of parliament, that the government would identify illegal immigrants and deport them as per international law. The illegal immigrants and the NRC issues figured in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto for recent parliamentary polls and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind’s speech to the budget session of the current parliament.
As Shah has more than once stated in his public engagements, his government plans to take the story of NRC beyond Assam to other parts of India. The important question is one must get a clear answer if the NRC is a livelihood issue or a nationhood issue or about both? Also, what will be the future of those who find themselves out of the NRC?
Pallab Bhattacharya is a
journalist based in India