September 8, 2019 5:36:06 am
A seven-member jury, including former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur and former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice A P Shah, began a two-day public hearing on the Assam citizenship issue on Saturday.
The People’s Tribunal, a public hearing on “Constitutional processes and human cost”, is being organised by civil society groups. The jury will hear individual testimonies of people from Assam participating in the process of updating the National Registry of Citizenship (NRC) and legal experts.
The hearing is aimed at educating the public “on what is being called the largest citizenship purges in history,” advocate Prashant Bhushan said.
Terming citizenship “the right to have rights”, advocate Gautam Bhatia told the jury about what he called the lack of transparency in the Supreme Court’s supervision of the process. He also criticised the time-lines set by the top court to publish the updated NRC. “When people’s citizenship is in question the criterion must be fairness, not fitness,” Bhatia said.
Testifying before the tribunal, Masuma Begum, a 25-year-old social activist from Assam, said she was left out of the NRC even as her parents and siblings featured in the list. “If people like me, who have access to information and legal resources, have been left out unfairly, what about the poor and uneducated in the state,” she asked.
Discussing the legal processes involved in updating the NRC, lawyers and people from Assam criticised the working of the Foreigners’ Tribunals in the state. “There is a pattern of religious and linguistic bias in the functioning of the tribunals,” activist Teesta Setalvad said.
Justice Shah said, “The term for members of the Foreigners’ Tribunal must be increased from one year, and their transfers must be handled by the High Court to ensure due process.”
Besides Justices Lokur and Shah, the tribunal jury comprises Prof Faizan Mustafa (vice-chancellor of NALSAR University of Law) , Syeda Hamid (former member of Planning Commission), Deb Mukherjee (former ambassador to Bangladesh), Gita Hariharan (founder-member of Indian Writers’ Forum) and Prof Monirul Hussain (Chair Professor at the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia). The jury will present its findings and announce a decision on Sunday.
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