On Wednesday, authorities updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam published an “additional draft exclusion list” that dropped 1 lakh names after having including them in the final NRC draft on July 30, 2018. The final draft had excluded 40 lakh, and Wednesday’s exclusions are over and above these.
A look at what the numbers mean, and where all this could lead to:
Assam NRC explained: Why have one lakh been removed?
Although included in the final draft published in 2018, these 1,02,462 were found ineligible during reverification later. The preparation of the draft exclusion list was approved by the Supreme Court under Clause 5 of the Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. Section 4(3) provides for suo motu verification. It has not been announced how many names were rechecked.
Some individuals were also found ineligible while appearing as witnesses in NRC-related hearings for other applicants. The names of some were deleted after they, or their descendants, were found to be “declared foreigners” or “doubtful voters” (or “persons with cases pending at Foreigners Tribunals”. “Doubtful voter”, or “D-voter”, is a concept exclusive to Assam, as are the 100 Foreigners Tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies.
How long will these exclusions and inclusions continue?
The final NRC will be published on July 31 this year. The latest exclusion list came as a result of continuous quality checks and verification, NRC officials said. Additions and deletions have taken place earlier, too. The first draft published on December 31, 2017, had included 1.90 crore names, but the final draft in July 2018 dropped 1.5 lakh of these 1.90 crore. The deletion was approved by the Supreme Court.
Overall, the final draft left out 40 lakh applicants and over 36 lakh of them filed “claims”, which have been heard. Among the 40 lakh are 2.48 lakh a decision on whom is “on hold”.
The 1 lakh newly excluded individuals, too, can file claims, and hearings will begin on July 5. They will be informed individually by letters of information, which will mention the reason for exclusion and details of the venue for claim submission-cum-hearing.
The final NRC will exclude those unable to prove their citizenship during the hearing of claims. Theoretically, there could be further exclusions. These would be from among 2 lakh individuals who had been included among the 2.89 crore names in the 2018 final draft, but against whom “objections” were filed by citizens later. If they cannot re-establish their citizenship in the wake of the objections to their inclusion in the final draft, they face possible exclusion from the final NRC.
How does one prove citizenship?
The criteria has been laid down. The NRC was first prepared in 1951, and the current exercise is an update. The final NRC will include the names of people already in the 1951 NRC, and their descendants. It will also include those in any of the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any one of other admissible documents issued up to that date, as well as the descendants of such people.
Will the excluded individuals get further opportunities to prove their citizenship?
They can approach a Foreigners Tribunal with a certified copy of the rejection order from the NRC, along with the grounds for appeal. The Tribunal has to give its final order within 120 days from the date of production of records, the Home Ministry stated in an order dated May 30 this year. In addition to the 100 Foreigners Tribunals, 200 more will be functional by September 1, state government officials said. If the applicant lose their case before such a Tribunal, he or she can appeal in the High Court, and then the Supreme Court if necessary. Someone who is not only excluded from the final NRC but also loses his or her case in a Foreigners Tribunal, however, faces possible arrest, and the prospect of being sent to a detention centre.
What are detention centres?
These are for persons declared “illegal foreigners”. As of now, there are six detention camps in Assam, housed in existing jails. State government officials said there are plans to build 10 more detention centres and a detailed project report is being sent to the Centre.
The six existing centres together hold around 1,000 persons. Declared “illegal foreigners” by the Foreigners Tribunals, many of them claim to be Indians. India has no treaty with Bangladesh that would have facilitated their deportation. Since 2013, Assam has deported 166 persons (162 “convicted” and four “declared”) including 147 to Bangladesh, according to government data until February 2019. In case of those declared foreigners in Assam, the question widely being asked is whether deportation can be possible unless Bangladesh accepts them as migrants from there.
Public and political opinion is divided on detaining them indefinitely in detention centres. In an interaction earlier this year, Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told The Indian Express about detention centres: “As a political leader, I don’t support it… I feel their identity should be digitally recorded and they should not be allowed to claim Indian citizenship in other states. Once that is done, they should be given basic human rights.”
Last month, the Supreme Court allowed conditional release of those who have completed three years in detention, against a bond.
Is there any estimate for how many stare at this uncertainty?
Political leaders have made various estimates. It will depend on the fate of the claims for inclusion, and objections against inclusion. If any of the claims are accepted as valid, this would bring the number down from 41 lakh. If any of the objections are accepted, it would add to the number of exclusions. The fate of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, too, can potentially impact the numbers.
How does the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill fit into all this?
While the NRC defines all illegal immigrants, irrespective of religion, on the basis of a cutoff date, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 proposed to differentiate among immigrants on the basis of religion. It provided for granting citizenship to immigrants of six non-Muslim faiths from three countries, including Bangladesh. The Bill lapsed without being introduced in Rajya Sabha earlier this year, but the ruling BJP has repeatedly said that it would reintroduce it during its current tenure, once it has the numbers in Rajya Sabha.
If the Bill passes Parliament this time, the implication is that Hindus from Bangladesh would be eligible for citizenship, even if detected as illegal immigrants, while Muslims who illegally entered from Bangladesh would be treated as illegal immigrants. The Bill has faced protests in Assam on the ground that it runs contrary to the NRC’s objective, which is to detect all illegal immigrants.
Whatever the fate of the Bill, a very long battle awaits those who are excluded from the NRC but claim to be Indian citizens.