OPINION | Why the Deadline For Final NRC Draft Should be Extended Beyond July 31
The excluded number notwithstanding, what is most certain is that the NRC could have been compiled in a more efficient manner with greater preparedness by the government.
People wait to check their names on the draft NRC list at a centre in Nagaon district, Assam. (Reuters)
The deadline to complete the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is fast approaching on July 31, four years after the onerous exercise was initiated in Assam and almost a decade after the Supreme Court stepped in to implement an accord inked between the government and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).
Intense speculation is on over the actual number that would be left out of the register and whether it would be less or more than the 4 million people excluded from the final draft last year.
The excluded number notwithstanding, what is most certain is that the NRC could have been compiled in a more efficient manner with greater preparedness by the government. In the end, it turned out to be an exercise that was much bigger, extensive and controversial than the government could have anticipated. Determining citizenship has never been an easy task in Assam and has become murkier because of vote-bank politics with every political party trying to woo the migrant communities.
The ideal situation would have been to create a central database of foreigners and suspected foreigners by culling data from all the concerned agencies ahead of the exercise. The project took off only last year. But a large number of appeals before the Foreigners’ Tribunals by the people left out of the register are expected from next month.
The Supreme Court was initially adamant that the deadline should not be extended beyond July 31. However, it has now fixed July 23 as the next date of hearing on the government’s plea that the deadline be extended by a month.
“Better Late Than Be Wrong”
“NRC’s objective is to compile a list of genuine citizens without any glitches. If necessary, more time should be given to the exercise to ensure that the names of all genuine citizens are included and those of foreign nationals deleted,” said Hare Krishna Deka, former police chief of Assam and winner of Sahitya Academy Award.
Deka’s views are echoed by a former official of the state home and political department, who pointed out that the exercise cannot be reversed in spite of the “efforts and propaganda” by certain sections that are against the NRC. “The BJP is already planning to place a bill in Parliament to make the process irreversible. So, it is better to be late than being wrong as it involves the future of millions of people,” he said.
Last month, a team comprising senior citizens from Guwahati and NGO functionaries submitted a huge bunch of documents to President Ram Nath Kovind with 28 lakh signatories supporting an error-free NRC. The President assured the delegation that the application would be forwarded to the Supreme Court.
Several cases have surfaced in the past few years related to the deletion of names of citizens from the list. The most vulnerable sections are the Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims, who settled before 1971 some of whom inhabit the riverine islands (chars) along the Brahmaputra and the population residing in the remote pockets along the interstate and international borders.
The lines are blurred in many places, which have undoubtedly allowed foreign nationals to also enrol through fraudulent means. The challenge is to draw the thin red line efficiently so that citizens are not victimised and no illegal migrants are able to enroll in the register.
Case For Re-verification
Three affidavits in the Supreme Court on the NRC update in Assam in the last one month have made a fervent plea to extend the deadline beyond July 31.
Assam Public Works, the NGO on whose PIL the Supreme Court ordered the register’s update, filed a fresh affidavit making a case for 100 per cent re-verification of names in some select districts of Assam by officials from the neighbouring districts engaging with the Seva Kendras.
Last week, both the central and Assam governments urged the apex court to allow rechecking of 20 per cent of the register in the border districts of the state and 10 per cent in the rest as a measure to ensure that the names of illegal migrants are struck off from the register. The government’s apprehension stems from reports about anomalies that might have crept in when the list was being compiled. In August last year, an Assam government employee Khairul Islam, who was engaged with NRC was arrested and sent to a detention centre after he was a declared a foreigner.
It may be mentioned that the Supreme Court had ordered 10 per cent random verification of the list in all the districts but many observers have cast doubts on whether the NRC Secretariat has been able to accomplish the additional task efficiently. A report submitted by Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela to the court said that about 80 lakh people have already been re-verified in the process of disposal of claims and objections.
Finally, the devastating floods in Assam cannot be ignored which has brought life to a standstill in large parts of the state with the death toll touching 47 so far. As many as 29 out of a total of thirty-
three districts in the state covering 4,626 number of villages continue with one-and-a-half lakhs of people being lodged in relief camps. In such a scenario, with power and communication being snapped at many places, it is highly possible that work on the NRC would also be sluggish in the flooded districts.
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