GUWAHATI: With December 31, the deadline set by the Supreme Court for the Assam government to publish the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft, drawing near, panic has gripped a large section of people after rumours spread that their names may not figure in the updated list and this will make them illegal immigrants.
The fear has risen after the Gauhati High Court in February declared certificates of residency, issued by panchayat authorities, as invalid. The ruling came after an applicant was found to have submitted certificate of residency as link document to prove citizenship.
There are a whopping 47 lakh people who submitted residency certificates issued by the panchayat authorities. As such, the panic is understandable. Come November 15, the SC will hear the issue based on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU).
The NRC is being updated under the direct monitoring of the SC. Under the exercise, only Indian citizens will be included in the updated draft with March 24, 1971 (midnight) as the cut-off date in accordance with the Assam Accord. As per the accord, which the then Rajiv Gandhi government had signed with the All Assam Students’ Union at the end of a six-year-long bloody anti-foreigners agitation in the early 1980s, a foreigner (read Bangladeshi), who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, is an illegal immigrant and therefore should be deported.
As per the 2011 census, Assam has a population of 3.12 crore. The NRC authorities have received applications from 68.33 lakh families together comprising 3.28 crore people. The difference of 16 lakh has been attributed to the growth in state’s population.
According to NRC state coordinator Prateek Hazela, 47 lakh applicants – some 45 lakh of them females – submitted documents, issued by panchayat authorities, to claim citizenship. Of them, around 17 lakh were found to be original inhabitants.
“There are certain categories of people living in the state for years. They cannot be denied citizenship just because they submitted panchayat documents although their cases have to be examined,” Hazela told The New Indian Express. He assured that the names of genuine Indians would not be left out of the process.
The AAMSU claimed that people had submitted certificates of residency as directed by the state government authorities.
“To establish linkage with their fathers, people were told to submit documents issued by panchayat authorities. The documents were countersigned by BDOs (block development officers) and circle officers. We have informed this to the honourable Supreme Court. We have also told it that there is no definition of original inhabitants and that there are no parameters to identify original inhabitants. A person is being declared original inhabitant at the satisfaction of officers,” AAMSU general secretary Ainuddin said.
He alleged that even while the NRC was being updated under the direct monitoring of the SC, the police were harassing people by serving them notices and casting doubts over their citizenship. Such cases are handled by various foreigners’ tribunals and there have been instances where people, declared Bangladeshis and sent to jail, walked free in due course by winning their cases in the court.
“We too want a correct NRC roll. We observed that some people, who won cases in the court after being declared doubtful voters, were again being sent notices by the police on the suspicion that they were illegal immigrants. This has to stop…”
“The BJP minority morcha has started saying that AAMSU doesn’t want NRC. What is the basis of their claim? It is nothing but propaganda to complicate the NRC process,” Ainuddin alleged.
The NRC state coordinator Hazela said there was a misconception among a section of people that they would be deported if their names were not included in the updated roll.
“In case of names which are not included in the draft NRC list, applicants will have a further opportunity by way of claims immediately after publication of draft list for a period up-to 30 days, wherein they can file their claim for inclusion of their names necessary documents. There will also be a provision for filing objections,” Hazela said.
He said they were gearing up for a publicity campaign. The rationale is to allay fears triggered by rumours and misinformation campaign by mischievous elements, he said.
Amidst perception of a serious law and order situation in parts of the state in the lead-up-to as well as post-publication of the draft, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has warned that those opposing the exercise would be dealt with firmly.
The police said they were not expecting a situation.
“Every political party, organisation and individual says there should be a timely and correct NRC. So, where is the problem? If somebody tries to create one, the chief minister has already said the person will be dealt with very seriously. We must understand that the NRC is being updated in the interest of the nation, not the state,” the state’s director general of police, Mukesh Sahay, said.
He added: “Some people are trying to create scare but we are watching them. The Central and state governments, besides intelligence and other agencies, are all on board to ensure that the process before and after the draft publication phase is handled as smoothly and securely as possible.”
For decades, the illegal migration from Bangladesh to Assam has been a serious problem that threatened to alter the state’s demography among others. According to estimates of groups and organisations, their number in the state is more than 50 lakh.
Students’ body AASU made it clear that under no circumstances should the names of foreigners be included in NRC. It demanded a fool-proof system to bar foreigners from making it to the roll.
The NRC is being updated at a time the Centre was mulling granting citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants of Bangladesh, besides Pakistan and Afghanistan, by amending the Citizenship Act.
The BJP views the Hindu immigrants as victims of Partition, and hence, favours granting citizenship to them. The party argues that the Hindus migrated from Bangladesh in the face of torture and religious persecution in the neighbouring country.