NRC: Sonowal asks people not to panic; govt to provide legal aid to poor

NRC, Assam, Sonowal, National Register of Citizens, The Federal
The final list of the NRC will be published on Saturday (File Photo)

Ahead of the publication of final NRC, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Friday (August 30) asked people not to panic and said the state government will take all possible steps to help genuine Indians prove their citizenship and provide legal assistance to the poor.

Sonowal also said the exclusion of anyone’s name from the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to be published on Saturday, does not mean that he or she has become a foreigner as such a decision can be taken only by a Foreigners Tribunal (FTs) after following the proper legal process.

“No one should be worried. No one should panic. Government is here to take care of everyone. Even those who will be excluded from the final list will get enough opportunity to prove their Indian citizenship,” he said in an interview.

When the draft NRC was published on July 30 last year, there was a huge controversy over the exclusion of 40.7 lakh people from it.

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The draft included names of 2.9 crore people out of 3.29 crore applicants. In addition to those excluded, the names of over a lakh people were also left out in a list published last month.

The chief minister said one must know that only a foreigners’ tribunal can declare an individual foreigner after following proper legal procedure.

“Exclusion from the NRC does not mean a person automatically becoming a foreigner. Only an FT has the right to declare a person foreigner, no one else. Even if someone is declared a foreigner, that person can challenge the FT order in the high court, and if not satisfied, then the Supreme Court,” he said.

Sonowal assured people that the state government will provide legal aid to poor people in their fight against exclusion from the NRC so that they can pursue their cases in foreigners tribunals and in higher courts.

“The central government has already extended the time period for appeal in an FT from 60 days to 120 days. I appeal to everyone to extend their wholehearted cooperation in the peaceful publication of the final list of the NRC,” he said.

Asked about security measures being taken to ensure peace, the chief minister said the central government has provided adequate paramilitary forces, which have been assisting the state administration.

“We have directed Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police in every district to be extra alert and ensure that no untoward incident takes place anywhere. There is no cause of worry or apprehension for people,” he said.

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The final list of the NRC will be published on Saturday.

On August 19, Sonowal had indicated that the government may explore legislative options to deal with the wrongful inclusion or exclusion of some names in the NRC after its final publication.

“In a democracy, everyone has the right to ask questions. After the publication of NRC, if necessary in future, we will take whatever steps will be required,” he had said when asked whether the government will explore some legislative options to deal with those whose names may be wrongfully included in the final NRC.

Last month, the Supreme Court had rejected the central and Assam governments’ plea for sample re-verification to find out wrongful inclusions or exclusion of names in the NRC.

The Supreme Court-monitored NRC exercise, aimed at identifying illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh, was carried out only in Assam, which faced an influx of people from the neighbouring country since the early 20th century.

When the NRC was first prepared in Assam in 1951, the state had 80 lakh citizens. According to the 2011 census, Assam’s population is over 3.11 crore.

The process of identification of illegal immigrants in Assam has been widely debated and has become a contentious issue in state politics.

A six-year-long agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students Union in 1979. It had culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985, in the presence of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.