Asked what would happen to the voting rights of those Assam residents who don’t find their names on the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Government’s stand has been that it’s up to the Election Commission to take a call on it once the NRC process is over.
That call is likely to raise fresh challenges of its own.
For, Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat has said that the electoral roll is governed by a separate law and exclusion from the final NRC would not mean “automatic removal” from Assam’s voters list.
Speaking to The Indian Express a day after the draft NRC was published without the names of over 40 lakh people out of 3.29 crore applicants, Rawat said that a voter, despite her absence from the final NRC, will continue to remain on the state’s electoral roll if she can prove to the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) that she has “sufficient documents” to prove three things. That she is a citizen of India, is at least 18 years old on January 2019 and is an ordinary resident in the Assembly constituency she wants to enroll.
According to Rawat, the Election Commission (EC) is prepared to face three scenarios while drafting the final electoral roll for Assam before the Lok Sabha elections next year.
In the first scenario, the registered voters in the state, who are also in the final NRC, will remain unaffected. In the second scenario, voters, who are absent from the final NRC but have managed to get a stay from a tribunal or court, will also continue to be on the electoral roll.
As for those who are neither in the final NRC nor have challenged their exclusion in court, it will be the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) who will decide their fate based on criteria laid down in the Representation of People Act of 1950.
“This is a quasi-judicial decision based on evidence and documents. He (ERO) has to decide whether he (the voter absent from NRC) should remain (in the voters’ list) or not,” said Rawat.
Asked whether exclusion from NRC makes a person’s Indian citizenship doubtful, he said, “Suppose I am employed in Assam but I was born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh. How can you say that if I’m not in NRC, I’m not a citizen of India? You can’t say that.”
The EC has directed the Assam Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) to reach out to the state coordinator of NRC, Prateek Hajela, to synchronise the summary revision of Assam’s electoral roll with the process of claims and objections to the draft NRC.
The EC’s electoral roll will be published on January 4, 2019. The final list of the NRC will be published by December this year. The Commission expects a preliminary report from the CEO in a week.
Could synchronization with NRC delay the publishing of EC’s Assam voter list? “We are only taking help of their process to the extent that it can help us. If it (finalization of NRC) goes haywire or continues for the next three years, why should we stop? Our process is different. We are governed by RP Act,” said Rawat.
“We will go by our motto that no voter must be left behind. Any eligible person in Assam must not be left behind from enrolling and voting. Our (state) CEO will work for that,” he added.