GUWAHATI: One more phase of contestation and possible controversy, related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), is scheduled to begin in Assam.
Come March 20, the NRC authorities will start issuing “rejection slips” to over 19 lakh people left out of the citizens’ register. The rejection slips will cite the reasons behind exclusion.
Once people excluded from the NRC receive the rejection slips, they can challenge their exclusion in the various foreigners’ tribunals. For this, they will get a 120-day window period. Under the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 and the Foreigners’ (Tribunals) Order, 1964, only the foreigners’ tribunals are empowered to declare a person “foreigner”.
Currently, Assam has around 100 single-judge foreigners’ tribunals. As they will not suffice to handle the cases of the NRC-excluded, the government had taken a decision last year to set up 200 tribunals and appointed 221 practising lawyers and retired civil servants and judicial officers as members of the tribunals.
Given the huge number of the people left out of the NRC, there is a perception that the process of challenging exclusion in the tribunals is going to be chaotic.
Earlier, the state government had said it would make necessary arrangements to provide free legal aid to the needy by providing all assistance through the District Legal Services Authorities. However, lawyers say it will take years to dispose of the cases by the tribunals and there could also be errors in judgement given the large number of the cases they will handle.
“It is not a matter of dealing with the cases of some hundred or some thousand people. Most of the over 19 lakh people are likely to challenge their exclusion. Secondly, the tribunals do not have the required infrastructure,” advocate Masud Akhtar Zaman told this newspaper.
He said the process would ensure “huge business” for lawyers. He felt that some people might not get justice due to the ignorance of a section of lawyers on the Citizenship Act and the functioning of tribunals.
“There are many examples where people lost their cases as they engaged inefficient lawyers. There are some lawyers who do not have sufficient knowledge either on the Citizenship Act or the functioning of tribunals,” Zaman said.
He equated the NRC with the Reich Citizenship Law of 1935 in Germany during the time of Adolf Hitler saying, “I thought the NRC is like the Reich Citizenship Law that gave two sets of citizens”.
The Reich Citizenship Law declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens.