Two years ago, on August 31, 2019, the final list of the much-hyped National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam to identify “genuine citizens” was published. It left out around 19 lakh of the total 3.29 crore applicants. The whole exercise was completed in five years at a cost of around Rs 1,600 crore under the supervision of the Supreme Court of India.
Let’s try to find the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Assam NRC.
What was the NRC of Assam? Why was it carried out and what challenges did it come across?
The NRC of Assam is a verified list of Indian citizens living in the state. The citizens’ register was created to identify foreign nationals. It has been two years since the NRC was published in Assam. The list was prepared by collecting information through a process that went on for nearly five years.
Alleging the list as faulty after it was published on August 31, 2019, several cases were filed in the Supreme Court of India. Assam Public Works, the original petitioner, demanded a proper review. At present at least 10 cases related to the NRC are pending before the Supreme Court, said APW.
The registrar general of the country has not yet recognised the Assam NRC as the entire process has been embroiled in legal complications mainly after the final list was published on August 31, 2019. Not a single hearing on the NRC has been held in the Supreme Court since January 6, 2020. As a result, the gigantic process that involved mammoth manpower and crores of rupees to detect illegal migrants living in the state has not moved forward much in the past couple of years.
Where are the people excluded from the NRC? Are they in detention centres? Did they vote in this year’s Assam elections?
As per procedure, the 19,06,657 people who were found ineligible for inclusion in the final NRC list were to be given individual “rejection slips” so they could plead their case in the foreigners tribunals. They were entitled to get all necessary legal support from the government on a case-to-case basis. The NRC-excluded people are not getting treated like ‘declared foreigners’ and no one has been put in detention yet. But as the whole process has been put on hold, their fate is still to be decided. The excluded people from the list were also given permission to vote in the Assam assembly elections. Before the polls, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced in Guwahati that people who were kept out of the Assam National Register of Citizens will be eligible to vote in the elections as their names were already on the voters’ list.
How are the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and NRC related?
There is no direct link between the CAA and NRC. The Citizenship Amendment Act is meant to help members of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have migrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan until December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution, ensuring that they will not be treated as illegal immigrants and given Indian citizenship. The Act got the President of India’s approval in December 2019 after it was passed by both Houses of Parliament. The rules of this Act are yet to be framed and the Centre has sought the extension of the deadline until 2022 in the Supreme Court. The NRC on the other hand is a process of valid Indian identification. After the NRC list was first published in Assam, union home minister Amit Shah announced that the Government of India will implement the process across the country.
Why has the NRC of Assam not come into force even after two years?
There has been a demand for the re-verification of the entire list. A hundred per cent review was demanded in several districts [Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Nalbari, Barpeta, Kamrup (Metro), Hojai]. Case applicant APW has frequently accused IAS officer and NRC coordinator Pratik Hajela of looting money while updating the register. Hajela purportedly committed corruption through five software companies. APW said 80 lakh foreigners in the process have been made Indians in the NRC. Notably, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has also reported financial irregularities of more than Rs 100 crore, adding to the dispute after the list was published.
The Assam government has taken a clear stand that this NRC, being “faulty”, will not be accepted and the state is ready to verify anomalies under the SC’s supervision.
A few months ago, NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma had filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a comprehensive and time-bound re-verification of the draft NRC and the supplementary list under the supervision of a monitoring committee preferably represented by the respective district judge, district magistrate and superintendent of police in every district. Dev Sarma also alleged that the Registrar General of India (RGI) has been silent on the anomalies found and has not provided any assistance to rectify them and instead asked to wind up the entire process by issuing rejection slips to excluded people.
These NRC cases are stretching out and since last year no hearings have taken place; so its implementation is still uncertain.
How is Aadhaar related to NRC? Why are many people not getting Aadhaar in Assam?
The Aadhaar identification number issued to Indian citizens, required for a lot of important work in the country, is still an incomplete exercise in Assam. The NRC applicants whose biometric details were locked during the claims and objections phase of the citizenship document update process, are unable to get their Aadhaar enrolment done. At least 27 lakh people are deprived of Aadhaar this way. The APW on Tuesday said it will file an affidavit in the Supreme Court in this regard so that deprived people can avail of Aadhaar cards. Students, teachers, businessmen are among those deprived of getting Aadhaar cards and have been facing various problems for about two years.