What it means to be out of NRC

Where do 40 lakh Assam residents go after being left out of citizens draft? A look at their immediate legal options, followed by long-term uncertainty for those who could still be “stateless” in India

Written by Abhishek Saha | Guwahati | Updated: July 31, 2018 9:17:40 am
Assam NRC Guwahati residents look for their names in the updated draft of the National Register of Citizens at an NRC Seva Kendra on Monday. (Dasarath Deka)

On Monday, the final draft of the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam listed 2.89 crore citizens. These were out of 3.29 crore applicants for inclusion. Who are the 40 lakh applicants who were not included in the NRC, and where do they go from here?

Why is it called an “updated” NRC?

Burdened by decades of migration from Bangladesh — formerly East Bengal and then East Pakistan — Assam already has an NRC, which was published in 1951 on the basis of that year’s Census. The only state with such a document, Assam is currently updating it to identify its citizens.

Does the draft published Monday mean that the 40 lakh who were excluded are not citizens?

Not necessarily, since this is only a draft. There is scope for filing claims and objections, and authorities including the Assam Chief Minister and the Union Home Minister have clarified that no one will lose his/her citizenship rights or be sent to a detention camp for foreigners merely on the basis of the draft NRC.

How long do they have to they file these claims and objections?

Between August 30 and September 28, at various NRC Seva Kendras. Forms for correction will be available from August 7 at the NSKs, said Prateek Hajela, NRC state coordinator. After that, the final NRC will be published by December 31, the Home Ministry has announced.

Read | Assam citizenship list: Names missing in NRC final draft, 40 lakh ask what next 

How do those excluded back up their claims for inclusion?

They will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971. This is the cutoff date in the Assam Accord of 1985, agreed upon by the Centre, the state and the All Assam Students’ Union, at the end of a six-year movement against migration from Bangladesh.

How do they prove that?

Surviving citizens from the 1951 NRC are automatically eligible for inclusion in the updated version. So are descendants of the survivors and of the deceased — provided that they can prove their lineage. Linkage to the 1951 NRC is, however, not compulsory. Going by the cutoff under the Assam Accord, anyone who figured in electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or who are descendants of such citizens, are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC. Various other documents are admissible — such as birth certificates and land records — as long as these were issued before the cutoff date.

Wouldn’t those rejected have already submitted such papers?

Since the draft includes only those who could establish their linkage to March 24, 1971 or earlier, it would suggest that the excluded 40 lakh submitted papers that were not enough to establish this linkage. The claims-and-objections process will also take into account errors during the update, if any. Errors apart, those who were rejected on the basis of submitted papers will face an additional concern, for they could face rejection again if they submit the same papers a second time. For example, the 40 lakh include 1.50 lakh who had been included in the first draft in January, but who were removed from the updated draft during re-verification. These 1.50 lakh face the task of finding documents other than those that were rejected.

So, there was a first draft?

Of the 3.29 crore applicants, 1.90 crore were listed in a first draft published in January, while verification continued for the rest. In Monday’s updated list, the list grew to 2.89 crore after fresh additions and accounting for the deletion of 1.50 lakh names.

Read | Assam NRC final draft: Mamata Banerjee leads Opposition protest, says Indians made refugees, Bengal will shelter

Assam NRC The final, updated NRC will be published by December 31. (AP)

Once the final NRC is published, what happens to those who will still be out of the register?

They can take approach any of the state’s 100 Foreigners Tribunals, or Gauhati High Court and then the Supreme Court. The tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies established in 1964. The Assam Border Police can refer any “suspected foreigner” to these tribunals following an inquiry.

READ | Assam NRC list: No person will be referred to Foreigners’ Tribunal or sent to detention centre based on final draft

If even legal recourse fails for those excluded, will they be deported?

Although the Assam movement was for deportation, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam. The state also has six detention camps for illegal migrants within existing jails, and proposes to build a seventh with a capacity for 3,000. These cannot, however, be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into lakhs.

If not deported or detained in a camp, how would life change for the finally excluded individuals?

They would officially be non-citizens, but what happens to them remains a grey area. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons, Home Ministry sources said. The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. He or she may, however, be provided certain facilities on “humanitarian grounds” — an assertion by the state government. The Centre may consider formulating a policy for the “stateless” after the final NRC, Ministry sources said. As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education. There have been suggestions in Assam that they be given work permits — Home Ministry sources said that this may come under consideration — but certain sections have been opposing this idea, too.

Express Editorial | Who is a citizen

But aren’t there policies for refugees?

Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee. India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls. For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits. Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.

Before this exercise, how has Assam dealt with suspected foreigners?

Since 1964, the Foreigners Tribunals have identified an estimated 90,000 foreigners but many of them are dead and many more are “untraced”, government sources said. Until April 2018, 899 “declared foreigners” and “D-voters” (doubtful voters who could not establish their citizenship) were in the six detention camps. Also, 29,738 have been deported — but most of these had been convicted of crimes in Indian courts, and very few of them were among those declared foreigners by the tribunals. Of those deported between March 2013 and December 2017, only two had been declared foreigners by the tribunals.

Has the NRC update taken into account “foreigners” identified by the tribunals?

The NRC has put “on hold” 2.48 lakh names in four categories: “D-voters”, their descendants, people whose cases are pending in the tribunals, and their descendants. There have been reports about “D-voters” subsequently being declared Indian citizens by the tribunals, only to find themselves marked “D” all over again in later electoral rolls. To resolve such issues, plans are being made for a centralised database that will link to real-time information on the status of “suspected foreigners”.

Inputs by Rahul Tripathi in New Delhi & Varinder Bhatia in Chandigarh

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