Weeks after the Supreme Court rejected the Centre and Assam government’s pleas for re-verification of a sample of names included in the draft National Register of Citizens and the final list excluded over 19 lakh people, much to the dismay of the BJP given that many were Hindus, the state government Wednesday said it “cannot
accept this NRC”.
Effectively burying the state NRC, Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said a fresh exercise should be conducted in Assam along with the rest of the country. The current NRC, he said, cannot be accepted by the state government because it is “erroneous” with “wrongful exclusions and inclusions”.
Sarma made the announcement at a press conference in Guwahati soon after Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Rajya Sabha that whenever the NRC exercise is extended to the whole country, it will have to be repeated in Assam.
“The NRC exercise in Assam was undertaken as per an order of the Supreme Court and as per a separate Act. When the NRC exercise is replicated across the country, it will naturally have to be repeated in Assam. I want to make it clear again that people, whichever religion they belong to, should not feel scared. Everybody will be included in NRC. As for the gazette notification that the member referred to, it is applicable across the country,” Shah said.
The gazette notification mentioned was from September 7, 2015 which dealt with Passport (Entry into India) Amendment Rules, 2015 and referred to “persons belonging to minority communities in Bangladesh and Pakistan, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who were compelled to seek shelter in India due to religious persecution or fear of religious persecution and entered into India on or before the 31st December, 2014”.
Replying to a supplementary question by nominated member Swapan Dasgupta during Question Hour, Shah also reiterated the government’s commitment to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, saying it is of the firm belief that Hindu, Buddhist, Parsi, Sikh and Christian refugees from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan deserve to get Indian citizenship. “That is why CAB was brought to ensure such religious refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have been persecuted for their religion, can become citizens,” he said.
Incidentally, last December, the Union Home Ministry, replying to a question in Lok Sabha, had said: “The exercise to update NRC 1951 is being conducted under the special provisions in respect of State of Assam under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship Rules, 2003. At present there is no proposal to extend the National register of Citizens to states other than Assam.” This was the Ministry’s reply to unstarred question number 1235 that came up in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2018.
To Congress member Ripun Bora’s question about when would tribunals — where people who have been left out of the NRC can go for redressal — become functional in Assam, Shah said tribunals will be formed in every tehsil and the lawyers’ expenses for those left out will be borne by the Assam government.
Clarifying that the CAB — it proposes to give citizenship to refugees of all religions except Islam — has got nothing to do with NRC, Shah countered Opposition criticism of the Bill being discriminatory. “Chairman Sir, the Bill was passed by Lok Sabha, scrutinised by a joint Select Committee which had people from all political parties. Whatever it says about religion is there with the consent of all parties. This not a new thing,” he said.
In Guwahati, Sarma said: “State government cannot accept this NRC. People who should not have been included in the NRC have been included. And those who should have been included have been excluded.”
Welcoming the Home Minister’s statement about an NRC for the country, Sarma said Shah’s statement comes in the backdrop of similar requests to him by Assam and the state BJP at multiple meetings — first, the “current NRC in Assam should be rejected”; second, there “should be a national NRC, with Assam taking part in it”; and, third, “if possible, cut-off date for the pan-India NRC can be the same across the country”.
Sarma said: “Cut-off for entire country should be same. There should not be two cut-off dates. If 1971 is the cut-off, then it should be the same for the country,” he said, adding that Assam should not have a different cut-off date. “Assam NRC should be rejected and Assam should be allowed to be part of national NRC,” he said.
The NRC, first prepared in Assam in 1951, was updated to include names of persons (or their descendants) who appeared in the 1951 NRC or in any of the electoral rolls or in any one of the other admissible documents issued up to midnight of March 24, 1971, the cut-off for detection of “illegal” migrants in Assam. The cut-off was based on the Assam Accord of 1985.
Sarma did not specify what should be the cut-off of a pan-India NRC, but insisted that whatever the year, it should be the same across the country.
He said that in the absence of a pan-India NRC, a suspected illegal foreigner excluded from the NRC in Assam could move to another state and start living as an Indian citizen. “If we remove an individual from Assam through NRC as a ‘foreigner’, he might go and get his name included in Kolkata’s voter list. He will become an Indian citizen. We are saying all ‘foreigners’ should be sent out from India, not only Assam,” he said.
The final NRC published on August 31 excluded over 19 lakh applicants and they will get a chance to appeal against before Foreigners’ Tribunals in the state. The first step towards contesting the NRC rejection is obtaining a rejection order from the NRC authorities, but that has not been issued yet.
In July, the Assam government and the Centre had petitioned the Supreme Court for re-verification of a sample of names included in the draft NRC — 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere — but this was dismissed by the bench of then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi after Prateek Hajela, the state NRC coordinator, said that re-verification of 27% names had been already done.
Hajela invited flak from the state government and the BJP. In a statement on July 24, the state BJP said, Hajela was working under the direction of “certain forces” to “publish a faulty NRC with names of illegal foreigners in it”.
On August 1, the state government released the exclusion data of the draft NRC to question the accuracy of the process and criticised Hajela. In its reply on the floor of the Assembly, the state government said that Hajela’s reasoning was wrong. On October 18, the Supreme Court ordered Hajela’s transfer out of Assam.
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