New Delhi: Amidst rising apprehension about what the final data publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has in store for the people of Assam, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has clarified that those names excluded from the document will be given legal aid from the government to file an appeal.
The MHA added that those excluded will get 120 days to file their appeal instead of the existing 60 days.
"As it may not be possible for all those excluded from the final NRC to file the appeal within the prescribed time, the MHA will amend the rules to increase the present time limit of filing of appeals in FTs (foreigners' tribunals) from 60 days to 120 days regarding exclusion from the final NRC," a statement from the MHA said.
“Under the provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964, only foreigners’ tribunals are empowered to declare a person foreigner. Thus, non-inclusion of a person's name in NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner," the statement clarified.
The decisions were taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday.
After the meeting, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that the government is open to considering a legislative route to give further relief to those wrongfully excluded from the NRC.
"After the publication of the NRC, if necessary in the future, we will take whatever steps will be required," Sonowal said when asked if the government will bring an ordinance after August 31, when the list is finalised.
At the meeting, it was also decided that adequate arrangements will be made by the state government to provide full opportunity to those excluded from the NRC list to appeal. "Every individual, whose name does not figure in the final NRC, can represent his/her case in front of the appellate authority i.e. foreigner tribunals," it said.
The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, are also being amended accordingly.
The MHA added that central security forces are being provided to the state to maintain law and order. The ministry and the Assam government have held extensive deliberations in recent weeks, the statement said.
The process of documenting and identifying illegal immigrants in Assam is India's "internal matter", External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said in Dhaka on Tuesday, days after New Delhi voiced its concerns over the illegal immigration from Bangladesh to the Northeast.
Home Minister Amit Shah early this month raised with Bangladesh India's concerns over the illegal immigration from Bangladesh to the Northeast.
When the draft NRC was published on July 30, 2018, there was a huge controversy over the exclusion of 40.7 lakh people from it. The draft NRC included the names of 2.9 crore people out of the total 3.29 crore applications. In the list published in June 2019, over a lakh more people were excluded.
The final list of the NRC will be published on August 31.
The Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise, aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in the state that borders Bangladesh, was carried out only in Assam, which faced influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century. When the NRC was first prepared in Assam in 1951, the state had 80 lakh citizens.
According to the 2011 census, Assam's total population is over 3.11 crore.
The process of identification of illegal immigrants in the state has been widely debated and become a contentious issue in the state politics. A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students Union in 1979. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, in the presence of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.