More than 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants in Assam were left out of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published on 31st of August, 2019 to conclude a Supreme Court-monitored exercise that took five years and Rs. 1,220 crore.
This led to protests about an uncertain future of such a large number of people. The government, however, has allayed all such fears, saying no person whose name is not there in the final list will be detained till he / she exhausts all legal remedies.
The excluded people have about 120 days to appeal against their exclusion to the foreigner tribunals. To speed up the process 200 new tribunals have been made functional in addition to the already existing. If they are not satisfied with the tribunals, people can also move to high court and the Supreme Court for redressal. The NRC exercise is the biggest in India, carried out under the supervision of the Supreme Court to weed out illegal immigrants, as well as their descendants, settled illegally in India.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the register containing details of all Indian citizens. After conducting the Census of 1951, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared by recording particulars of all the persons enumerated during the 1951 Census.
After the conduct of the Census of 1951, a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared in respect of each village showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein, and in respect of each individual, the father’s name/mother’s name or husband’s name, nationality, sex, age, marital status, educational qualification, means of livelihood or occupation and visible identification mark. This was done by copying out in registers the particulars recorded during the Census done in 1951. This NRC was prepared under a directive from the Ministry of Home affairs (MHA).
These registers covered each and every person enumerated during the Census of 1951 and were kept in the offices of Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers according to instructions issued by the Government of India in 1951. Later these registers were transferred to the Police in the early 1960s.
National Register of Citizens (NRC) means the register containing the names of Indian citizens. NRC updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of citizens based on Electoral Rolls up to 1971 and 1951 NRC. In other words National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of those persons (or their descendants) whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 1971, 1951 NRC or any of the admissible documents stipulated. The NRC will be updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. As such, eligibility for inclusion in updated NRC shall be determined based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 and in their absence the list of admissible documents issued up to midnight of 24th March, 1971.
D voter, sometimes also referred to as dubious voter or Doubtful voter is a category of voters in Assam who are disenfranchised by the government on the account of their alleged lack of proper citizenship credentials.
History of the Accord
Influx of immigrants was a major concern for inhabitants of Assam. The state saw two major episodes of large-scale migrant influx around Partition and in run-up to Bangladesh war in 1971. Flow of illegal immigrants continued across porus borders and the issue took centre-stage when the voters’ list in a 1978 by-poll to Mangaldoi Lok Sabha seat saw a surge. A student group called the All Assam Students Union (AASU), called for putting off the election till ‘names of foreigners’ were struck off the electoral rolls.
In 1979, AASU and the All Asom Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) began a series of protests across the state. State educational institutes remained shut for long. Periodic strikes at times turned violent. According to official records, 860 people were killed in the agitation. This was the start of a six-year agitation that culminated in the Assam Accord.
In 1985, the Assam Accord was signed between the Centre, the Assam government, Aasu and AAGSP to end the agitation over the foreigners’ issue. Under the Accord and subsequent amendment of the Citizenship Act, foreigners were to be divided into the following categories:
Other Clauses of the accord included
There have been several waves of migration to Assam from Bangladesh, but the biggest was in March 1971 when the Pakistan army crackdown forced many to flee to India. The Assam Accord of 1985 that ended the six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation decided upon the midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, the updation of the NRC is a positive step in a number of ways.
Firstly, it will provide a much needed perspective on the extent of illegal migration that has taken place into Assam in particular and the country in general. Since the days of the Assam agitation against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, there have been wild speculations about their actual number. The uncertainty about the number of illegal migrants was compounded by the absence of official estimates. This allowed political parties to often exaggerate the numbers, polarise voters and exploit the issue for electoral gains. An updated NRC is likely to put an end to such speculations and provide a verified dataset to carry out meaningful debates and implement calibrated policy measures.
Secondly, the issue of illegal migrants has remained an emotive one in Assam since independence. It had even created a divergence of opinion between successive central and state leaderships as the former continued to be accommodative towards migrants describing the mass migration from East Pakistan as “homecoming”. Much to the dismay of the people of Assam, some central leaders even went to the extent of denying that any illegal migration from Bangladesh has taken place into the state. The publication of an updated NRC will vindicate the long held argument of large sections of the people of Assam that unabated infiltration from Bangladesh has indeed taken place and that it has upset the demographic profile of the state’s population, especially in the border districts. This, they note, has been causing intense competition and conflict between the indigenous people and migrants for access to resources.
Thirdly, the publication of an updated NRC is expected to deter future migrants from Bangladesh from entering Assam illegally. The publication of the draft NRC has already created a perception that staying in Assam without valid documentation will attract detention/jail term and deportation. More importantly, illegal migrants may find it even more difficult to procure Indian identity documents and avail all the rights and benefits due to all Indian citizens. Last but not least, the inclusion of their names in the NRC will provide respite to all those Bengali speaking people in Assam who have been, hitherto, suspected as being Bangladeshis.
There are some options which the government may consider, though these are fraught with problems and likely to prove quite difficult, if not impossible, to implement.
The first option is to deport the illegal migrants to Bangladesh. This course of action is, however, a non-starter given that Bangladesh till date has refused to even acknowledge that its citizens have migrated illegally into India, let alone expressing any indication that it would consider taking them back. New Delhi is also reluctant to raise this tricky issue lest it jeopardises relations with Dhaka. In the absence of a formal agreement, India cannot forcibly push the illegal migrants back into Bangladesh. Such an attempt would not only damage bilateral relations but also sully the country’s image internationally.
The second option is to allow the illegal migrants to reside in the country on humanitarian grounds, but after stripping them of all citizenship rights. The government can grant them a modified version of work permit and let them stay on as guest workers, albeit in different states. For this, the Union government will have to enter into negotiations with state governments that are willing to accept these illegal migrants. On their part, state governments have to maintain a proper database and a strict vigil on these illegal migrants lest they disappear without a trace. But this option is likely to create a new problem: in the absence of Bangladesh acknowledging that these lakhs of people are its citizens who have migrated to India, granting them work permits will render them stateless and cause a large-scale humanitarian crisis.
The third option is to grant the proclaimed illegal migrants amnesty and, after a process of naturalisation, Indian citizenship. Such an option would not, however, be welcomed by the people of Assam who are at present protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016, which proposes to grant citizenship to all refugees (except Muslims) who have fled religious persecution in their home countries. In fact, a case challenging the decision to consider migrants from East Pakistan, who had entered India before or on March 24, 1971, as Indian citizens is presently pending in the Supreme Court.
The publication of the final NRC report is indeed a positive step in so far as it puts to rest wild speculations about the extent of the illegal migrant population in Assam and the resulting polarisation that political parties have been exploiting to make electoral gains. However, the absence of any clear policy as to how to deal with the proclaimed illegal migrants has created a sense of unease in the minds of many presently residing in Assam. Further, while the NRC is being updated for Assam, there is no plan to prepare similar NRCs for the other states in the North East where illegal migration continues to be a volatile issue. The need of the hour therefore is for the Union Government to allay apprehensions presently in the minds of the people of Assam and take steps to contain any adverse fallout after the publication of the final draft of the NRC. At the same time, it also needs to spell out what it intends to do with the persons whose names do not figure in the final NRC.
Given all this, the best way forward for India appears to be to initiate talks with Bangladesh and seek a mutually acceptable political solution for the issue of illegal immigrants. To begin with, India needs to convince Bangladesh to undertake a domestic verification process for determining who among those not finally listed in the NCR are its own citizens. The next step would be to work out a deal for repatriating these persons to Bangladesh. Such a deal is in the realm of possibility given the fact that Bangladesh has agreed to take back 85 of its citizens last year after verifying that they had illegally entered Assam.