Ahead of the claims-and-objections round of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), political parties and civil society organisations in Assam have reacted sharply to NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela’s report to the Supreme Court in which he suggested that those now seeking inclusion into the list be allowed to submit only 10 out of the original 15 “list A” documents.
The five documents that Hajela asked to be excluded are the 1951 NRC, voter lists up to March 24, 1971, citizenship certificates, refugee registration certificates and ration cards issued prior to March 24, 1971, the cut-off for inclusion into the latest list. Over 40 lakh people who had been excluded from the final NRC draft published on July 30 have been given the option of filing fresh claims.
A statement by the Assam BJP, signed by party general secretary Dilip Saikia, said Hajela’s report had “complicated the situation”. “In the final NRC draft, names of several lakh Indians belonging to the Gorkha, Bengali and Hindi-speaking communities have been left out,” the statement read.
It also said that state party president Ranjit Dass, who is attending the BJP national executive meeting in Delhi, would take up the matter of “inclusion of names of genuine Indian citizens in the NRC” with central leaders of the party. On September 10, Dass is scheduled to address the press and clarify the party’s stand on the NRC updation process.
Earlier this week, the Assam BJP unit had sent a letter to Hajela, seeking that documents such as migration certificate, citizenship certificate and all variants of refugee cards be acceptable in the NRC updation process.
Congress leader and leader of Opposition in the state Assembly, Debabrata Saikia, accused Hajela of “misleading the Supreme Court” and asked for his removal. In a press statement, Saikia attributed “malafide motive” to Hajela’s recommendation that the 1951 NRC and voter list up to 1971 be dropped from among documents that claimaints are allowed to submit as proof of their presence or that of their ancestors in the state.
Saikia said people whose ancestors are in the 1951 NRC and pre-1971 voter lists, but do not have any one of the 10 documents made necessary by Hajela’s suggestion, would be out of the NRC even if they were genuine Indian citizens.
“Several genuine Indian citizens will be left out of the NRC if the five documents are excluded in the claims round,” Saikia said.
The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by MP and perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal has lashed out at Hajela’s suggestions. Party general secretary Aminul Islam termed them “unethical and biased”. “Several stakeholders will oppose this. There seems to be political pressure behind this suggestion. If the 1951 NRC is not accepted, then what is being updated?” asked Islam.
A B Khandakar, working president of the Brahmaputra Valley Civil Society, said, “The NRC updation process in Assam is going on under the Citizenship Act Section 6(A) and Citizenship Rule 2003 Schedule 4(A), which states that the admissible documents for inclusion are copy of the 1951 NRC and copy of any voter list prior to 1971. If these documents are not allowed in the claims round, the whole process is meaningless.”
While Hajela could not be contacted – the IAS officer had earlier been censured by the SC for talking to the media – Abhijeet Sarma, president of NGO Assam Public Works and the petitioner in the case, however, said the suggestion was a good one. “It’s a good step. But why only for 40 lakh people, it should be done for the entire process. Also, the refugee card is questionable because while the Congress or AIUDF would want to include Muslim Bangladeshis into the NRC, the BJP would want the same for Hindu Bangladeshis. Moreover, the ration card cannot be a citizenship determination document,” said Sarma.
Civil society groups in the state’s largely Bengali-speaking Barak valley too criticised Hajela’s suggestion. “This exclusion of five documents is illegal and contradictory to citizenship laws and rules of updating of NRC,” said Sadhan Purkayastha, secretary general of the Citizen’s Rights Protection Committee.
The NRC prepared in 1951 is being “updated to include the names of those persons (or their descendants) who appear 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 next hearing in the case in the Supreme Court is on September 19 and the date for start of the receipt of claims and objections has been deferred.