Analysis: NRC in Assam

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A severe humanitarian problem rooted in the North-eastern state Assam emerged in the form of National Registry of Citizens of India. The NRC is the list of Indian citizens in Assam that was first prepared in 1951 following the Census of 1951 conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act.

The list has now been updated for the first time since then to identify the illegal immigrants in Assam. This issue embarks the sovereignty of this nation and amalgamates it with humanitarian crisis. The Final  National Register of Citizens (NRC) which was published on 31st August 2019, left out more than 19 lakh applicants out of the 3.29 crore individuals who applied for inclusion of names in NRC in Assam.

This exercise was carried out and monitored by the Supreme Court of India for a prolonged period of five years. The purpose of this exercise was to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The NRC updating process in Assam is governed by Rule 4A and the corresponding Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. These rules have been framed as per the cut-off date of Midnight of 24th March 1971 decided as per Assam Accord.

What came out as the consequences of NRC? And what are the possible future actions associated with them?

Many stories of individuals from Assam in relation to the NRC have come out and persistently form a pile of ramifications of this Final NRC draft over the due course of time, with no resolution in the future. The individuals who have been left out of this draft have a right to proceed with an appeal in the Foreigners’ Tribunal within 120 days from the release of the draft.

From a logistics standpoint, deportation of excluded individuals to Bangladesh not being an available option, the hindsight of holding multiple thousands of individuals in detention centres for years seems unreasonably difficult to manage for any administration personnel. Nevertheless, in order to accommodate the excluded individuals, detention camps have been set out across the State of Assam at places like Goalpara, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar and Tezpur. These camps are nothing, but district jails labelled as detention camps.

There was a government notification in Assam on the basis of Supreme Court Order on Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 that births up to December 3, 2004 were eligible to be a citizen of India where either of the parents holds Indian citizenship. However, the children born after 3 December 2004 would not be eligible to be included in the NRC if either parent is declared as a doubtful voter, declared foreigner or a person with his case pending in the Foreigner’s Tribunal. This would leave out the children those who were born in the last 15 years and whose either of the parent’s citizenship is in the doubt or declared void.

What can be the further implications of NRC?

The discussion so far has been limited to the state of Assam, but the advocates of NRC propose to carry out the same exercise throughout India, with suggestions of “Kashmir” being the most outright and the other states being proposed were West Bengal and Kerala. The dilemma of NRC has popped up at the moment when the world faces a major crisis of immigration throughout from Europe to the United States of America. The US is facing similar crisis from the Mexican border and Europe Union gathering the same from the Mediterranean region.

What solutions can be resorted to curb the threat of this humanitarian crisis?

The need of the hour is to come up with solutions for the same, more so, long-term solutions rather than momentary solutions. An article by Head of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Sanjeev Tripathi provides for certain suggestions such as a Bilateral Agreement between India and Bangladesh which would involve return of nationals of Bangladesh who have illegally entered India after verification.

In addition to the same he also urges legislators to come up with a refugee law that shall draw distinction between refugees and illegal immigrants and in turn provide for a clear definition to the same. To extend the scope of the said solution a mechanism of incentivization shall be enforced and subsequently a counteracting mechanism should also be brought into the system.

The incentives would be in the form of work permits, granting refugee status and permission to live and work in the period of verification. The article also highlights the forms of disincentives which as being suggested by the Head of RAW could be considered through an amendment to the Foreigners Act in the shape of penal punishment for the acts that include but are not limited to providing accommodation to a foreign national, concealment of the presence and identity and subsequent facilitation of illegal immigrant and the acts of the similar nature. 

Under the proposed bilateral assistance, financial assistance must be provided to Bangladesh in order to implement a national identity system similar to that of India’s Aadhar. The process should preferably start in the border areas. India may also consider introducing a system of keeping biometric records of Bangladeshi nationals while granting them visas to visit India, Tripathi recommends.

It is of utmost importance that the Government deliberates on this issue in consultation with the political leaders and civil society groups, for this is a question of individuals who have been rendered stateless. The action taken by the State Government has been limited to set up of multiple detention centres to house all of those who have been deemed as foreigners by the Foreigners’ Tribunal. It is still a question if the promised legal aid for appealing their exclusion will be dispensed to them impartially and effectively.

Not only have these individuals lost their voting rights but also their right to hold any land or property. The extended question is that does this exclusion also denies them the access to government welfare schemes as those relating to health and education on two levels: one for the individual who has been excluded and other for their progeny.

In conclusion…

The fear of illegal immigration has been a question in the politics of Assam. Some added fuel to the fire of fear while others created vote bases out of the same. The people who created vote bases were those who portrayed their image as a protector against these so called ‘foreigners’ often termed as ‘termites’ by Union Ministers of the current regime. However, it is time for the nation to value these individuals as human beings and not look at them merely as political subjects. One needs to evolve from the political standpoints to an inclusion-based environment that embraces humanity and social communities.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Vishwajeet Deshmukh from Government Law College, Mumbai.

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