Thursday, May 14, 2015

NRC Updating in Assam: Few Thoughts, Few Questions

The latest buzzword circulating in Assam is the NRC or the National Register of Citizens. The NRC is the register containing details of all Indian citizens. The NRC will now be updated in Assam as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. As per the two statutes, the citizenship status would be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 and in their absence the list of admissible documents of Pre -1971 period

The updating of the NRC has been demanded by the people of Assam due to large scale immigration of Bangladeshi nationals to the region. The illegal influx had led to a six-year long movement (1979-1985), termed the Assam Movement, in the state. The movement led to the signing of the Assam Accord, which makes NRC updating mandatory for identification and deportation of illegal migrants. In the tripartite meeting held on 5 May, 2005, between AASU, the Centre and the state government to review the implementation of Assam Accord, the government agreed to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951. 

The updating process had started from June 1, 2010, when the Registrar General, Citizens' Registration, notified two pilot projects for updating the NRC of 1951 in Chaygaon revenue circle (Kamrup district) and Barpeta Sadar revenue circle (Barpeta district). But the pilot project had to be called off after four persons protesting the modalities of updating were killed in police firing in Barpeta on July 21, 2010.

But finally the process of updating the NRC has begun in the state, with the publication of legacy data and setting up of 2400 NRC Sewa Kendras around the state. The draft NRC is expected to be published by November 2015 and the final NRC to be published on or before January 31, 2016.

The NRC updating is indeed good news for the state as it would help identify the genuine citizens of Assam. But there are a few questions which have been raised from various quarters, the answers of which are still unclear.

One is the question regarding the citizenship status of children born to illegal migrants from Bangladesh, who entered Assam after 24 March, 1971. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, applicable to Assam, grants citizenship only to those migrants who came before March 25, 1971 but Section 3(1) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 grants citizenship by birth unconditionally, that is regardless of the citizenship of the parents, to those born between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987, and grants citizenship by birth to those born between July 1, 1987 and December 3, 2004, when only one parent is required to be a citizen. Thus, if someone came to Assam after 25 March, 1971, he or she will be an illegal migrant, but their children will become a citizen of India. Thus, effectively, the children of illegal migrants can become a citizen of India, if he/she was born before December 3, 2004. It is only after December 3, 2004, that citizenship by birth is granted if both parents are citizens or one is a citizen and other is not an illegal migrant. This is a very complicated scenario. The Supreme Court has on May 13, 2015, directed additional solicitor general Neeraj Kishan Kaul and the Assam government to explain within four weeks how it intends to deal with this situation.

Another question is about those people who lived in areas which were earlier part of Assam but later on became part of separate states. For example, in 1951, Assam comprised of parts of present day Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. Now, many people had their name registered in those districts during preparation of the NRC 1951, which are no longer part of Assam. Also, since Meghalaya and Mizoram states were created in 1972, many people of Assamese origin had their names registered in the districts of those states in the electoral rolls of 1971. Now the problem is that the uploaded legacy data do not contain data of those districts. As the updating process requires the applicants to establish links with their fathers or forefathers whose name appear in the NRC 1951 or electoral roll of 1971, many persons would not be able to establish links of their fathers or forefathers, if they lived in areas which are now no longer part of Assam. Including the data of those districts, which were earlier part of Assam, therefore is necessary for some people to establish their legacy.

In order to have an error-free updating of the NRC, these questions need to be answered. This is a very crucial document, a document on which depend the socio-political future of the state. Maximum awareness on the process, glitch-free updating and cooperation of public and government authorities is very much needed at this stage.