WHEN THE National Register of Citizens (NRC) authorities in Assam published a consolidated family-wise list of applicants recently, they appended a note that those included may also be excluded later, and that no position in the list is permanent. As of now, the NRC has included 3.11 crore applicants as citizens, and excluded 19 lakh.
Under what circumstances can an included person’s name be deleted?
The note described three circumstances:
* Any fact of misrepresentation of particulars/documents discovered by the authorities;
* Discovery of a person being a Declared Foreigner (or a migrant of 1966-71 who is unregistered with a Foreigners Regional Registration Office [FRRO]); a person with a case pending at a Foreigners Tribunal, or a person being a D (Doubtful) voter or a descendant of such a person;
* Receipt of an opinion by any Foreigners Tribunal declaring a person as a foreigner.
Who is a D-voter or a Declared Foreigner?
D-Voter is a category introduced in Assam in 1997 to mark people unable to prove their citizenship during verification. A Declared Foreigner is one identified as such by one of the 100 Foreigners Tribunals (FTs), which are quasi-judicial bodies that opine whether or not a person is a foreigner within the meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946.
Under Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, people who entered Assam between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 need to register with an FRRO. They would have all rights of a citizen except the right to vote, which would be granted after 10 years. In the NRC note, those who entered Assam within this 1966-71 window but did not register themselves, too, are liable to be excluded.
How could such persons have been included in the NRC in the first place?
There have been allegations that Declared Foreigners have entered the final NRC. Parallel citizenship determination processes intersect in Assam, and the NRC process worked without any synchronised database that would have reflected the real-time case status of a suspected foreigner. A centralised database is in the making, as a part of an e-FT programme, which will streamline databases of people declared or suspected to be foreigners by parallel processes (such as Foreigners Tribunals, Border Police reference, and NRC) and also store the biometrics of such people.
Another possible explanation is that a person declared to be a foreigner, having failed to produce papers to convince a Foreigners Tribunal, might have convinced the NRC with the same documents. In fact, many Declared Foreigners from the Foreigners Tribunal process have later been declared “Indian” in higher courts. Also, a large proportion of Tribunal cases are decided by ex parte rulings, so that the person has not argued his defence. These same persons could have presented documents to NRC officials.
An NRC official said that the Foreigners Tribunal is a superior authority to the NRC, as ruled by the Supreme Court — “it is of no consequence whether or not a Declared Foreigner is in the NRC”.
Are there other circumstances in which a person listed in NRC can get removed?
State officials say it is “legally possible” for the Border Police to make a reference against a person in the NRC. There is, however, no clarity whether the state will use that option. “If there is solid and genuine ground, then a reference can be made,” a government official told The Indian Express.
This option with the Border Police was also highlighted by Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in an interview with the Assamese channel NewsLive recently. He said that the Border Police should investigate those they suspect of having “manipulated” legacy data for inclusion in the NRC.
Is it possible to go for re-verification of the NRC, as demanded by some?
In the interview, Sarma suggested that the government should approach the Supreme Court for re-verification, jointly with the All Assam Students’ Union and the NGO Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner in the NRC case. APW president Aabhijeet Sharma told The Indian Express that they will move the Supreme Court demanding 100% re-verification.
Upamanyu Hazarika, Supreme Court advocate and convener of the anti-immigration platform Prabajan Virodhi Mancha, said in a recent press statement: “In case of the NRC after its final publication Rule 10 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Card) Rule 2003 vests power in the Registrar General or his nominee to remove any names from the citizens list if it is found to be on the basis of incorrect particulars.. … The statutory position being that the executive has the authority to re-verify entries in the NRC, a fact-finding investigation in this regard will enable the Registrar General to undertake re-verification.”
Rule 10 lists circumstances in which a person’s name can be deleted from the final NRC — “by an order of the Registrar General of Citizen Registration or any officer authorised by him”. These include (i) death; (ii) the person ceasing to be an Indian citizen under Section 8 of the Citizenship Act; (iii) revocation of Indian citizenship under Section 9; or (iv) particulars provided by the individual or the family found to be incorrect.”
The NRC note, too, cites Rule 10 as a provision under which names can be deleted, but it does not mention re-verification.
What happens to the over 19 lakh who are already excluded?
They will have the chance to appeal at the Foreigners Tribunals. The first step is obtaining an “exclusion or rejection” order from the NRC authorities, but there is no clarity on how long this will take. As per amended rules, a person has 120 days (understood to be counted from the day of the issuance of the rejection order) to appeal. If no appeal is filed in 120 days, the Deputy Commissioner of that district will make a “reference” to the Tribunal.
The state government has announced that those excluded will get legal aid through the District Legal Services Authorities. “The real challenge is before FTs where extensive documentation is required. Getting certified copies of documents from appropriate authorities is the first big hurdle. The poor and the illiterate are baffled,” said Gauhati High Court advocate Aman Wadud who is among a group of lawyers who have decided to offer pro bono services to the poor.
The BJP and its’ lawyers’ body, the Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad, are formulating ways to provide legal aid to “genuine Indian citizens”. Several NGOs are also training volunteers to work as para-legals, while activists across the state have formed groups and are holding awareness meetings.