Ahead of the 19 lakh people contesting their exclusion from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Foreigners’ Tribunals, a mobile application developed by a journalist-lawyer duo was launched to help those seeking legal assistance. On October 1, NRC eHandbook, an Android app was launched to aid lawyers and paralegals who will be filing appeals for the NRC-excluded in Foreigners’ Tribunals.
“Not just lawyers, but our app — which is a repository of all kinds of documentation related to the NRC — will also be of use to anyone, be it a journalist or a researcher, who wants to understand the NRC process,” says Shakil Ahmed, a Guwahati-based freelance journalist who developed the app, along with advocate Mustafa Khaddam Hussain.
The final NRC list was published on August 31 and excluded 19,06,657 people out of 3.3 crore applicants. Those left out have the option of contesting their exclusions in quasi-judicial bodies called Foreigners’ Tribunals, within 120 days of receiving the rejection order. The Tribunals — currently 100 in number (while 200 new ones are being set up) — are the ultimate authority in determining citizenship in Assam, and have the discretion of sending people to detention centres, if they fail to prove that they are Indian. However, these courts have increasingly earned a negative reputation for their incorrect judgments, with the Gauhati High Court recently indicting a Foreigners’ Tribunal in Morigaon district for 57 wrong judgments.
While the appeals process has not started yet, people are gearing up nonetheless. While five National Law Schools have collaborated to provide legal assistance to those left out of the NRC through a platform called Parichay, the state government has also announced that the District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA) will be providing free legal aid to the needy.
“When the NRC authorities announce what the next step in the appeal process is, our app will guide people on how to proceed,” says Ahmed, who has a degree in Computer Science. The app, which was developed along with advocate Hussain, legal advisor of the All Assam Minority Students’ Union (AAMSU), is divided into different sections: SOPs and Modalities, Official Advertisements, Acts and Rules, Gauhati High Court and Supreme Court Judgments, Communication and Letters, Relevant Documents, Upcoming Updates and Feedback. “So each section has different kinds of documentation — whether it is a landmark SC judgement or specific case or an advertisement issued by the NRC authority or a newspaper article,” says Ahmed.
“During the appeal process, all these documents will need to be cited. So our idea was to create a quick legal guide people can refer to,” says Ahmed. The duo had initially toyed with the idea of a website or a book. “But the latter would result in 5-6 volumes so an app was the most feasible,” says Hussain. While his legal expertise came in handy to determining the concept and contents of the app, Ahmed looked after the technical aspects.
The app was formally launched on October 1 and has been available on Google Playstore since October 3. “In the past 6 days, we have had more than thousand downloads and people calling in,” says Ahmed.
“The app is useful because it has the potential to serve as the go-to guide for anything NRC-related — circulars, notifications, rules and acts. So this will help advocates who need reference materials to file appeals,” says Abdul Batin Khandakar of the Brahmaputra Valley Civil Society, an NGO in Assam.
The app is running a trial version now and only 30% documents have been uploaded. While users can read the material, printing or download options remain unavailable. “Those will be made available soon. The other thing we are working on is protecting certain documents with passwords. Some court judgements are non-reportable, that is, they cannot be reproduced for reportage —to access those, the user will have to furnish an identity proof, after which we will provide a password. This is so that such docents are not misused,” explains Hussain.
The app is in English and aims to reach a wider audience. “Anyone who has any query — journalist, researcher, lawyer or just about anybody interested from any part of the world — can use our app. But our main aim is to end the ordeal of genuine Indian citizens who have been affected by this,” says Ahmed.