On August 31, 2019, the final list of the NRC in Assam was released. This was considered to be the culmination of decades of strife and agitation in the state over the question of continued presence of “illegal immigrants” and the urgent need to identify and deport them.
The NRC was envisaged as a comprehensive record of citizens in Assam, identified by the law of the land as persons who had migrated to Assam before March 25, 1971. Read in Bangla
The legal home for the NRC is found in the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. The updation of the NRC was sanctioned by the Supreme Court, which, in 2014, began monitoring the entire process.
The result of the NRC list has been well documented — 1.9 million people were excluded from its ambit and now face the prospect of filing appeals against this exclusion before the quasi-judicial body known as the Foreigners Tribunal (FT).
But, as Padmini Baruah and Aman Wadud (both lawyers) argue, “the potential repercussions from the NRC exclusions could be catastrophic”. It does not help that the appeals process is fraught with delays; one year on, there is no sign of when this process will begin and decisions such as the re-checking of rejection orders to exclude people only add to the uncertainty.
“Vulnerable populations are poised to suffer grave consequences in the absence of legal clarity,” they state.
For instance, there are multiple instances of children who have been excluded from the NRC. Will they be extended protections as per the law governing juveniles in the country? Will they be separated from their parents and sent to detention if they are unable to prove their citizenship? What guarantees are in place for the protection of their rights? We only have questions to which there seem to be no answers.
“The state machinery’s track record is one of see-sawing,” they point out.
In 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs described the NRC process as “statutory, transparent, legal”, a “fair process based on scientific methods”. In almost the same breath, it has called for the NRC to be scrapped. Shifting these goalposts for political gains reflects an extraordinary lack of regard for the people who have been excluded. Those included in the NRC are also waiting for the final list to be gazetted.
“Justice delayed, as the adage goes, is justice denied. The state needs to take urgent steps to move the NRC process forward as soon as possible and to ensure that guarantees of due processes are in place,” they conclude.
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