What is NRC?
- NRC is a register maintained by the Government of India, containing names and relevant information for identification of all genuine Indian citizens.
- On the directives of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), after conducting the Census of 1951, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 Census and since then it has not been updated till recently.
What is the Assam NRC?
- The North-East Indian state of Assam has become the first state in India where the NRC updation is being taken up.
- It includes names of those persons whose names appeared in the NRC, 1951 and their descendants having permanent residence within the state.
Purpose of NRC Updation
- Identification of Indian citizens from among all the present residents of the state.
- Identification of illegal migrants residing in that state, who entered into it after the midnight of 24 March 1971.
NRC and Assam Accord
- Criteria to identify residents of Assam is based on the Assam Accord.
- The Assam Accord of 1985 began with the assurance that the ―government has all along been most anxious to find a satisfactory resolution to the problem of foreigners in Assam‖.
- It put together a list of resolutions to be implemented to solve the immigration issue in Assam.
- As per Assam accord, all people who came to Assam before January 1, 1966, would be given citizenship.
- Those who moved in between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971, would be ―detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964. Their names would be deleted from the electoral rolls, and they would remain disenfranchised for a period of 10 years.
- Lastly, the accord provided a resolution to the case of those who entered Indian borders after March 24, 1971. ―Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, shall continue to be detected, deleted and practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners, said the accord.
Issues with NRC Updation
- Exclusion of more than 19 lakh out of the 3.29 crore applicants from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) caused a Humanitarian crisis by making them stateless.
- It caused the marginalization of the poor and illiterate.
- This Supreme Court-monitored exercise took five years and ₹1,220 crores.
- The process of NRC update in Assam differs from the rest of the country. It is governed by Rule 4A and the corresponding Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
- There have been several administrative, and procedural discrepancies in the final draft of the NRC as the name of some family members and ex-servicemen are excluded.
- Assam has a problem of annual floods in the Brahmaputra. Documents get destroyed, geographies shift, addresses change.
- Officials have been generally uncooperative.
- There have been several cases of transparent injustice whereby families have been divided – some declared Doubtful Voters and foreigners, others as bonafide citizens.
- Little has been done to address the issues of economically backward and uneducated people who were unable to download the online forms.
NRC and international relations (Bilateral relation with Bangladesh)
- The neighbouring country has already made its intention clear by stating that this is an internal issue of Assam and India, and it has nothing to do with it.
- Bangladesh official said that his country need not respond because the 19 lakh people are not Bangladeshis. These people belonged to Assam’s neighbouring states in India.
- Bangladesh does not recognise any infiltration taking place from its territory to India.
- The possibility of deportation to Bangladesh is very bleak as the people excluded from the list should be proven citizens of Bangladesh, and that will require cooperation from Bangladesh.
- Heavy-handedness on this issue could also harm warm ties between India and Bangladesh, an eventuality both neighbours would like to avoid.
NRC and UNHCR (The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
- UN demands Government of India (GOI) response on ‘Human Rights Crisis’, it reminded India of its obligations under international Human Rights conventions.
- UNHCR asked GOI to ―arrest the rising tide of bigotry, stigmatisation and scapegoating of all those perceived as ―foreigners and ―infiltrators, most of whom belong to racial, ethnic, religious or linguistic minority groups in India.
- UNHRC has pointed out that international laws and conventions are being violated by the Indian government‘s to prevent a crisis in Assam.
- These include Article 27 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by India on 10 April 1979. This establishes that in those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities have the right, in community with the other members of their group, ―to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.
- Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that guarantees ―the right of ―everyone to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, through any media and regardless of frontiers.
- UNHRC has asked GOI to take all necessary measures to guarantee their right, not to be deprived arbitrarily of liberty and to fair proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal, under articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
- The UN Special Rapporteur has raised the issue of possible statelessness of millions of people in Assam in the wake of the exclusion of their names from the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Role of supreme-court in NRC Updation
- Supreme Court of India‘s order in the year 2013 in regards to two writ petitions, mandated the Union Government and the State Government to complete the updation of NRC, under Citizenship Act, 1955 and Citizenship Rules, 2003 in all parts of Assam.
- Supreme Court of India is closely monitoring the process and has been holding regular hearings on representations made to it by various interested parties & stakeholders.
- In its judgement, SC made reference to Article 144 and Art 142 of the Constitution of India.
New emerging challenges
- Civil wars, unrest among masses, strict law and order problem involving mob attack not just in Assam but also in other parts of India.
- Most of those left out are Muslims, it can give rise to hate crimes and communalism.
- The government may fail to strictly implement it due to lax administration.
- The government may fail to stop the “illegal immigrants” from voting, as there have been several cases of people having made counterfeit official identity cards such as Aadhaar, PAN card, ration card and even voter’s identity card.
- It may prove a Humanitarian disaster in the making, with tens of thousands of genuine citizens being turned stateless, defying all logic of natural justice.
- There has been a rise in cases of mass suicides since the publication of the final draft of the NRC last year.
Grievance redressal mechanism
- People who have been excluded from the final list of NRC will have to appeal against it at Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT)- a quasi-judicial court and subsequently in the high court or Supreme Court.
- The government has given 120 days time to those excluded from the NRC to appeal in the court.
- FTs have to adjudicate two to three million cases and they have been given just 120 days it denies fair trial and justice.
- Someone who loses his or her case in a Foreigners’ Tribunal as well as in higher courts, he or she will face a possible arrest and the prospect of being sent to a detention centre.
- Assam has six detention camps and the state government has proposed to build a seventh detention camp with a capacity for 3,000 people. However, the list of illegal migrants is in lakhs which these detention centres won’t be able to accommodate.
Future of excluded people
- If not deported or detained in a camp, such people would officially be entitled as non-citizens. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons.
- The only aspect that is more or less clear here is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education.
- In India, being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee. At present, the country has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan.
- The porous border between India and Bangladesh hinders effective border management. Tackling infiltration from Bangladesh demands alternative solution, hence there are doubts whether the NRC alone could solve the problem.
- Need for robust grievance redressal mechanism to ensure justice for all.
- Government and non-government agencies must ensure that no one should use this issue for political gains or to spread communalism.
- The state must ensure that these Stateless people should get basic amenities in the detention camps.
- There‘s an urgent need for fixed policy for ―Stateless people.