Updated: March 29, 2021 1:26:12 am
The Registrar General of India has asked the Assam government to explain its request for additional funds to carry out pending work on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), making it clear that there was no provision to exceed the around Rs 1,600-crore allocation made for the completion of the exercise by March 31.
The state government had sought a monthly allocation of Rs 3.22 crore beyond that date for finishing the work in a letter on March 4.
In response, RGI Joint Director Jaspal Singh has written to S R Bhuyan, Secretary in the Home and Political Department, Assam, that the state government had not even begun the process of issuing rejection slips to those left out of the NRC despite being asked to carry it out on “mission mode”.
The March 23 RGI letter, which The Indian Express has a copy of, also reminds the Assam government that all the activities of NRC updation “were to be completed within the approved cost of the scheme by the 31.03.2021 and there is no further provision of funds for the expenditure made under the scheme beyond 31.03.2021”.
It goes on to say that the State Coordinator of the NRC in Assam, Hitesh Sarma, “has been requested time and again to complete the pending work as per the decision taken in NRC Coordination Committee meetings, approved guidelines/SOPs and the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court issued from time to time”.
“It is therefore requested to clarify why the cost proposed cannot be managed within the cost approved by the Cabinet,” the letter adds.
Singh’s letter says that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had approved the revised estimates of Rs 1,602.66 crore up to December 31, 2019 with a condition that the amount would not be revised further before winding up the NRC process by March 31, 2021.
The NRC, published in August last year under direct supervision of the Supreme Court, excluded around 19 lakh people from roughly 3.3 crore applicants. Senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told The Indian Express during an Idea exchange session that this number included around 5.56 lakh Hindus and over 11 lakh Muslims, although no official data has been made public by the NRC office.
But NRC authorities have not yet been issued rejection orders, with which they can appeal against the exclusion at the state’s Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs). The FTs will then decide whether the person is a foreigner or an Indian citizen, leaving the citizenship status of over 19 lakh people in limbo.
Over the last year, NRC authorities have variously cited the Covid pandemic, massive floods and checking discrepancies in the preparation of the rejection orders as reasons for the delay. The MHA told the Parliament this year that Covid and floods were the primary reasons for the delay — the letter from RGI’s Singh sheds more light on this delay.
“The process of issuing rejection slip to those excluded from NRC list is yet to start. The NRC Coordination Committee in its meeting held on 30.01.2020 had directed that the pending work relating to issue of rejection slip should be completed on a mission mode,” Singh wrote. He added that Sarma, in a meeting held on July 2 last year, had said that that rejection orders would be issued to the 19-lakh odd rejected people by the end of December 2020.
“The NRC Coordination Committee has been insisting on since its meeting held on 30th January, 2020 and 2nd July, 2020, to complete the activities within the limit of approved budget of Rs 1,6022.66 crore only,” Singh said in the letter.
The letter from the RGI comes at a time when the incumbent BJP-led government in Assam has maintained that under no circumstance will it accept the NRC in its current form, alleging that it is rigged with wrongful exclusions and inclusions and demanding a re-verification.
In an interview with The Indian Express this month, incumbent chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said, “We got to know that there were reports of defects in it [the published NRC] … So that is why, people have apprehensions that errors have taken a place in the
preparation. People of Assam wanted an error-free NRC. So we have filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court requesting we should be allowed to make a re-verification of 20% of the included names in border districts and 10% in other districts of the state. The government stands by this re-verification demand.”
In its Assam election manifesto released this month, the BJP has said, “We will initiate the process of the correction and reconciliation of entries under the Supreme Court mandated National Register of Citizens in a structured manner to protect genuine Indian citizens and exclude all illegal immigrants.”
What adds to the NRC’s uncertainty, however, is that the Supreme Court, which proactively supervised the process since 2013, has neither heard the matter since January 2020 nor given any direction. As the process hangs in limbo, genuine Indian citizens who were excluded are unable to start the process to get their names re-included.
State Coordinator of the NRC, Hitesh Sarma, did not respond to calls and a text message.
However, The Indian Express has reported on how in an affidavit to the Gauhati High Court in December last year Sarma had said that the
NRC published in August 2019 was a “Supplementary NRC” and that the RGI is silent on the publication of the “Final NRC” and it is “yet to be published”.
Sarma wrote in his affidavit that all anomalies detected by him in the published NRC has been communicated to the RGI in February 2020, “seeking necessary directions for corrective measures in the interest of an error free NRC which is of utmost importance as NRC is directly related to the national security and integrity”. However, Sarma wrote, the RGI has not given any directions on dealing with the anomalies.
“Rather instructions have been received for issue of rejection slips and winding up the operation of updation of NRC. The Registrar General of India is also silent on final publication of the NRC for which it is the only authority to take action and till date the Final NRC is yet to be published by Registrar general of India as per Clause 7 of the rules under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National identity Card,” Sarma wrote in the affidavit.
Sarma calling the NRC list published in 2019 as not “final” was in sharp contrast with the then state coordinator Prateek Hajela calling it the “Final NRC” in a press statement. Assam government holds Hajela responsible of creating a flawed NRC. He was shifted out of Assam by the Supreme Court last year soon after his relationship with the government deteriorated.
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