Citizens out, foreigners in, say leaders after final NRC list released

Assam NRC List Excluded Citizens
Applicants wait to check their names on the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Buraburi Gaon, Morigoan. (PTI Photo)

The long wait to the publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is finally over as the Assam government on Saturday (August 31) published the final list of genuine Indian citizens.

The process that started in 2013 on the orders of the Supreme Court left out 19,06,657 people. A total of 3,11,21,004 people are included in the NRC out of the 3,30,27,661 in the state.

The number of excluded people is less than half as compared to the that in the draft NRC published in July last year that excluded more than four million people.

From 10 AM onward on Saturday, the hard copies of the Supplementary List of Inclusions were made available for public view at 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras (NSK), offices of the Deputy Commissioner and offices of the Circle Officer. The status of both inclusion and exclusion can also be viewed online on the NRC website.

Panic, anxiety hits state

A 60-year-old woman identified as Shayera Begum, from No.1 Dolabari village in Sonitpur district of Assam, has committed suicide right after the publication of NRC. The woman jumped into a well this morning after she was told that her name was not in the list. However, later it was found that all of her family members, including her, had made it to the list.

According to Citizen for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Delhi based Rights organisation, which is keeping a tab on the NRC related suicides in Assam, so far 60 people have committed suicide due NRC-related stress.

In districts like Barpeta where the population of minorities is very high, people were seen distributing sweets on the road among themselves for inclusion of maximum population in the list. However tension is prevailing in many other parts of state.

Ananta Kumar Malo, a legislator from the All Indian United Democratic Front (AIUDF) from South Abhayapuri constituency in Bongaigaon district, could not make it to the final list. Another former legislator from the same party, Ataur Rahman Majhar Bhuyan’s name was also found missing in the list.

In Karimganj district, the exclusion of the name of one former havildar of Indian Army is creating tension. Bimal Choudhury, a 40-year-old former havildar could not make it to the list.

Another Kargil veteran of Indian Army, Md Sanaullah who had made headlines for exclusion from the draft NRC published last year, could not make it to the final list either.

“I was not expecting my name to be in the list as I am fighting my case in the High Court. However I am hopeful that I will get justice,” Sanaullah said.

The state of Assam has been put on high alert with additional security forces roped in the state.

Apart from the forces of the Assam Police, 218 companies of additional forces have also been deployed to ensure safety and security for all. The police have declared 14 districts as sensitive areas. Over 1000 NRC Seva Kendras are identified as sensitive out of the 2500 and additional security has been put in places.

Section 144 of CrPC has been clamped in Dispur the capital, where the state Secretariat and Assembly complexes are located.

However no incident of violence has been reported so far.

NRC is not ‘final’

“NRC is no quarter-final, semi-final and final for driving out Bangladeshis… Wait a while and you will see more finals under the BJP regime. This NRC won’t help us get rid of foreigners,” said Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma after the publication of the citizen list.

The powerful BJP Minister who is regarded as the Chanakya of politics in northeast India, has demanded that the Supreme Court should allow 20 percent re-verification of citizenship in bordering districts of Bangladesh and 10 percent re-verification in remaining districts once again.

“I reiterate that as requested by Central and State governments at least 20 per cent re-verification (bordering districts) and 10 per cent re-verification (of other districts) should be allowed by Hon’ble Apex court for a correct and fair NRC,” he tweeted.

One day before the publication of the citizen list, Sarma had said that NRC exercise had not “gone on the expected lines” and this was “not like people expected”.

Atul Bora, president of Asom Gana Parishad, a party to the Assam Accord signed between Indian government and representatives from Assam in 1985 to drive out illegal migrants from Assam also expressed dissatisfaction over the numbers.

“We are not happy that only 19 lakh people are excluded as previously we were told that there were 40 lakh foreigners in Assam,” he said.

Abhijeet Sharma, president of Assam Public Works, whose writ petition in the Supreme Court in 2009 led to the NRC updation exercise in Assam, said that this list is a document of a “paralysed community”.

“Among the 19 lakh people left out of NRC, many are genuine Indian citizens and another four lakh didn’t apply for the NRC. We appealed the Supreme Court to organise the exercise of NRC for the determination of foreigners and not for giving citizenship to foreigners,” he said.

“We have been telling the Supreme Court for the last one year to do 10 per cent sample verification but the court didn’t pay heed to us and listened to Prateek Hajela (state coordinator of NRC),” he said.

He also wondered whether the software used in the updation exercise was capable to handle so much data and if it was examined by any third party Information Technology expert.

“We would like to apologise to the people of Assam. For, we could not give you a fair NRC. Because of some money-hungry agents of Bangladeshis, the community is destroyed,” he said.

Sharma also demanded an audit of the ₹1,400 crore expenditure incurred in the NRC exercise, saying he would write to the President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Former Assam chief minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi accused the ruling BJP of failing to ensure a free and fair NRC even with the entire administrative machinery at its disposal.

“I am not happy with the way the NRC has been published with names of genuine Indian citizens left out and foreigners included. The home ministry has miserably failed to prepare the NRC despite so much time and money spent,” the three-time former chief minister told reporters.

All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the organisation behind the six year long Assam movement, to drive out illegal migrants from Assam also expressed dissatisfaction over the list.

Lurinjyoti Gogoi, general secretary of AASU, said, “The final number that has been left from the NRC is quite less than the numbers that has been released by the government from time to time during the four year long process. The process which started according to the Assam Accord is faulty, incomplete and AASU is not happy.”

Congress MP Abdul Khaleque said, “ I am not very satisfied with the NRC because I have data on how genuine Indian citizens are left out of the list. I welcome the government’s decision of extending legal assistance to those not in the list for reclaiming citizenship and we from the Congress party will also extend help.”

What’s next

The 1.9 millon people left out of NRC will have a chance to reclaim their citizenship in Foreigner’s Tribunals. They can approach the High Courts and Supreme Court as well.

The Assam government has set up 300 foreigner’s tribunals (quasi-judicial courts) for the purpose.

The Centre has increased the time limit for filling appeals regarding exclusion from the final NRC from 60 days to 120 days. Each person excluded from the list will have a maximum of 120 days or four months from the date of publication of the final NRC to challenge his or her case at a Foreigners’ Tribunal. At least one Foreigners’ Tribunal in each district of the state has been designated to receive appeals from persons excluded from the NRC.

Along with this, ten detention centres are coming in the state, including the biggest one in the country in Goalpara district in western part of Assam.

The process of reclaiming citizenship may not immediately lend the 1.9 million people in detention centres a long legal fight is what awaiting for them on the other side.

The state government has announced to provide legal assistance to people the expense of which will be borne by the District Legal Services Authorities. Till now, a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, a victim of human trafficking, a beggar (as referred to in Article 23 of the Constitution), a woman or a child, a disabled person, a victim of a mass disaster or ethnic violence, of caste atrocity or natural calamities like flood, drought, earthquake or industrial disaster, an industrial workman and people in custody are eligible for the free service.

Apart from this, various organisations, political as well as non political organisations have come forward to provide legal and financial aid.

Zamser Ali, Assam state coordinator of Citizen for Justice and Peace, an NGO which has been providing legal help to those excluded from draft NRC said, “This will be a very long legal battle and it may cost each claimant from a minimum of ₹50,000 up to several lakhs to fight the case in the apex court. Our organisation has trained some 100 paralegals in Assam to help defend the citizenship of people whose names have been excluded from the NRC.”