NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS (NRC) – CURRENT AFFAIRS BY EDEN IAS

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NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS (NRC) – CURRENT AFFAIRS BY EDEN IAS

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.

WHAT IS NRC?

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.

NRC Updation

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.

WHO ARE ELIGIBLE FOR INCLUSION IN ASSAM?

  1. Persons whose names appear in NRC, 1951
  2. Persons whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (midnight), 1971.
  3. Descendants of the above person
  4. Persons who came to Assam on or after 1st January 1966 but before 25th March 1971 and registered themselves in accordance with the rules made by the Central Government with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority.
  5. ‘D’ voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However, their names will. Be finally included only when the appropriate Foreigner Tribunal declares them as non-foreigners.
  6. Persons who can provide any one of the documents issued up to midnight of 24th March, 1971 as mentioned in the list of documents admissible for citizenship.

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.

As per the latest Order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court

  • All Indian Citizens including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post 24th March 1971 would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on 24th March, 1971.
  • All the members of the Tea Tribes shall be covered under ‘Original inhabitants of Assam’ category provided for under Clause 3(3) of the Schedule of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
  • All such original inhabitants shall be included on the basis of proof to the satisfaction of the Registering Authority. On establishment of the citizenship of such persons beyond reasonable doubt, their names shall be in the updated NRC.

The Assam Accord

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:

  1. Those who came to Assam before 1.1.1966;
  2. Those who came between 1.1.1966 and 24.3.1971;
  3. Those who came to Assam on or after 25.3.1971.

Other Clauses of the accord included

  • Restricting acquisition of immovable property by foreigners
  • Registration of births and deaths
  • Prevention of encroachment of government lands
  • Promoting cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese
  • Economic development, stress on education, science and technology
  • Citizenship certificates to be issued only by central authorities
  • Border security to be ensured

 

Why is March 24, 1971 the cut-off date?

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.

  • The accord brought an end to the Assam Agitation and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.
  • As per the Accord, those Bangladeshis who came between 1966 and 1971 will be barred from voting for ten years. The Accord also mentions that the international borders will be sealed and all persons who crossed over from Bangladesh after 1971 are to be deported.
  • Though the accord brought an end to the agitation, some of the key clauses are yet to be implemented, which has kept some of the issues festering.

Consequences of illegal Migration

  • Crisis of  identity: The  influx  of  immigrants  created  a  crisis  of  identity   among   the   indigenous      Their   cultural   survival   will  be  in  jeopardy,  their  political  control  will  be  weakened  and  their  employment  opportunities  will  be  undermined  by  such  illegal  migration. The recent Bodo-Muslim violence in the BTAD has its root on the issue of illegal migration.
  • Environmental degradation: Large areas of forest land were encroached upon by the immigrants for settlement and cultivation. The state experienced declining percent of land area under forest from 39% in 1951-52 to about 30% now.
  • Difficult to identify the illegal migrants: Due  to  the  similar  language   spoken   by   illegal   migrants   from   Bangladesh   and   the   indigenous Bengali speaking Muslim of Assam, it becomes difficult to identify and deport the illegal migrants from Assam.
  • Community tension: The  commission    on    integration    and    Cohesion  found  that  tension  usually  exist  with  the  presence  of  high  levels  of  migration  combine  with  other  forms  of  social  exclusion  like  poverty, poor housing etc.
  • Increase financial burden: Immigration has increased pressure on the part  of  state  government,  as  the  government  has  to  increase  the  expenditure on education and health facilities to the immigrants.
  • Displacing native  workers: There  is  a  fear  particularly  during  a  recession  that  immigrants  take  jobs  which  would  otherwise  be  taken  by  local  people;  in  particular  place  and  circumstances  there  can  be  competition and conflict.
  • Decreases wage level with the increase of population: Illegal immigrants in every year have been adding a good number of people in Assam. It is one of the main reasons of population explosion. Due to this there is a possibility of decreasing wage level.
  • Assam agitation: The  failure  of  government  to  respond  the  issue  of  illegal  migration  led  to  the  agitation  by  the  Assamese  under  the  leadership  of  All  Assam  Gana  Sangram  Parishad  (AAGSP)  and  All  Assam   Student’s   Union   (AASU).   Assam   witnessed   governmental   instability, sustained civil disobedience campaigns and worst cases of ethnic violence. Assam accord was the result of this agitation.
  • Illegal voters: Most of the Bangladeshi immigrants have got their names enlisted in the voting list illegally, thereby claiming themselves as citizens of the state. The immigrant’s population act as a vote bank for the political parties in Assam.
  • Issue of terrorism: Pakistan’s ISI has been active in Bangladesh supporting militant movements in Assam. It is alleged that among the illegal migrants there are also militants, who enter into Assam to carry out the terrorist activities.

NRC is a positive step

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.

Possible Options

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

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