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'Judicious, Not Arbitrary Justice': Assam Student Body Appeals to Minority Minister for Fair NRC Trials

'Judicious, Not Arbitrary Justice': Assam Student Body Appeals to Minority Minister for Fair NRC Trials

The NEMSU letter raised the concerns of "minor reasons" such as wrong "spellings, difference in the surnames and intentional act on part of some officers" because of which persons have been excluded from the NRC.

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Aditya Sharma

New Delhi: The North East Minorities Students’ Union (NEMSU) has sought minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's help to ensure judicious and not arbitrary trials in the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) in the cases of people who have been excluded from the final NRC list.

"Most of the excluded people are financially so weak that they cannot even think about going to the High Court or Supreme Court for further recourse," the group said in a letter to Naqvi and sought a fair means of justice at the courts created for foreigners in Assam.

In the post NRC phase of deciding the fate of the 19 lakh people excluded from the list, which the External Affair ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said will be "fairly long" process, 400 FTs have taken centre stage in Assam.

The FTs are quasi-judicial bodies meant to "furnish opinion on the question as to whether a person is a foreigner within the meaning of Foreigners Act, 1946". Until recently, FTs dealt with two kinds of cases - those against whom a "reference" is made by the Border Police and those whose electoral identity is "doubtful".

However, tensions are high as all the cases of people excluded from the NRC being referred to these quasi-judicial bodies, given that the court has the power to declare a person foreigner via ex-parte proceedings. Earlier, K Kishan Reddy, Union Home Minister, in a reply to an unstarred question, informed the Lok Sabha that 63,959 people have so far been declared foreigners via ex-parte proceedings in the FTs in Assam from 1985 to February 2019.

In another reply, the MoS once again told the Parliament that 1,17,164 people have been declared foreigners in the state till 2019. Given the total number of verdicts, it is clear that more than half have been declared ex-parte.

The NEMSU letter raised the concerns of "minor reasons" such as wrong "spellings, difference in the surnames and intentional act on part of some officers" because of which persons have been excluded from the NRC.

"These small irregularities due to clerical or human errors have caused troubles to many people. Some of them are indigenous people of Assam. People may have been excluded from the NRC because of these errors but the FTs must judiciously take note of it during the hearing of appeals," Zulfikar Ahmed, General Secretary of the NEMSU told News18.

While the External Affairs Ministry had clarified on September 2 that people left out of the NRC are not "stateless" and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they exhaust all remedies under the law, Ahmad wonders if they would also be given economic and legal assistance to attend the hearings.

"Most people who have been excluded belong to poor and weak sections of the society. A trip from an interior village in Assam to the Guwahati High Court itself costs at least Rs 5,000. If a person wants to appeal to a higher court, where will the money come from? Going and appealing to the Supreme Court itself costs over Rs 50,000," Ahmed said.

The 19 lakh people excluded have been given a window of 120 days to approach the FTs to prove their citizenship. Once declared a foreigner, however, a person can be detained under Section 4 of the Foreigners Act, 1946.


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