Earlier this week, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) authorities in Assam ordered the deletion of “ineligible” names that had erroneously made it into the prepared register.
Whose names will be deleted?
In a letter dated October 13 to all Deputy Commissioners and District Registrars of Citizen Registration, Hitesh Dev Sarma, the state coordinator of the NRC, said that “some names of ineligible persons” — persons ‘declared as foreigners’ (DF) by Foreigners Tribunals, persons marked as ‘Doubtful Voters’ (DV) by election officials, or persons whose cases are ‘pending at Foreigners Tribunals’ (PFTs), and their descendants — had “found entry to the NRC”.
Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) are quasi judicial bodies meant to give opinion on whether a person is an “illegal foreigner” as per The Foreigners Act, 1946. They send notices to people who are referred to them by the Border Police, or who have been marked as ‘D’ (doubtful) voters by the local election office.
On December 10 last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs told Lok Sabha that only four persons who were declared ‘foreigners’ had (until then) been deported to Bangladesh, while a total 1,29,009 persons had been declared as foreigners by the FTs (until then).
As per the laws governing the preparation of the NRC, persons falling in the above categories cannot be included in the NRC.
Sarma instructed the district incharges of the NRC to “write speaking orders for deletion of such names… after specifically ascertaining the identity of the person”.
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But if these individuals were declared ‘foreigners’, how could they have made it into the NRC?
One explanation that is offered is that such persons may have got their names included using fraudulent documents and by deceitful means.
The other reason that officials often cite is that there is no synchronised real time database, which reflects the status of a suspected ‘foreigner’ to the NRC officials. Therefore, an official on the ground may actually have no way of knowing that a particular applicant has earlier been declared a ‘foreigner’ by an FT.
So how many names could be deleted?
Speaking to The Indian Express on Wednesday (October 14), Sarma said no speculation on numbers was possible at the moment.
“Yes, we have started the process to delete names from the NRC of ‘declared foreigners’, ‘doubtful voters’, those who have cases pending at FTs and their descendants. List of names are still coming in from several districts and it would not be fair to comment on the total number of such erroneous inclusions into the NRC right now. Let us get the complete lists,” he said.
Is there a political context to the new announcement about the “ineligible” names and the deletions?
The state government has maintained that a 10%-20% re-verification is necessary to get a “correct” register.
The Assam government has reiterated that it sticks to its demand of re-verification — 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere — of the included names in the final NRC, even as it has continued its criticism of the former NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela, holding him responsible for what it calls an erroneous NRC with allegedly wrongful inclusions and exclusions.
“We want a correct NRC… The NRC just completed is flawed. We have appealed to the Supreme Court that the people of Assam will never accept this NRC. Names of many illegal foreigners are included in it. NRC should include names of only genuine Indian citizens,” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said in Dibrugarh earlier this month. The government’s appeal seeking re-verification remains pending in the Supreme Court, Sonowal said.
So where does the NRC stand now?
The NRC process has hit a wall as of now since the rejection orders to the 19 lakh excluded persons — which will allow them to appeal against the exclusion in the Foreigners’ Tribunals — is yet to be issued.
Officials have cited the Covid-19 pandemic as well as discrepancies in some rejection orders, which need to be re-checked, as reasons for the delay. Meanwhile, without the rejection order, the excluded persons are stuck in a limbo.
The Supreme Court, which had proactively supervised the process from 2013 onward, has not heard the matter since January 6.