The first draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for the State of Assam was published by the Registrar General of India at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 2017.
The main objective of this exercise is to identify illegal migrants, mostly from Bangladesh, in the State.
The first draft of the NRC that has been published, includes the names of 1.9 crore people, out of the total 3.29 crore applicants in Assam, recognizing them as legalized citizens of the State.
The application process for NRC commenced in May 2015 the schedule to publish the next draft will be decided as per the guidelines enunciated by the Supreme Court in April 2018.
The Registrar General of India has assured that the entire process of updating the NRC by scrutinizing the 6.5 crore documents received from 68.27 lakh families across Assam will be completed within 2018.
What is National Register of Citizens (NRC)?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) contains the names of Indian citizens across India and was prepared after the Census of 1951.
As per the directions of Government of India, this document was kept in the offices of Deputy Commissioners and Sub Divisional Officers and was later transferred to the custody of Police department in early 1960.
The updating of NRC will establish the citizenship rights of all Indian citizens. This process has commenced in Assam since May 2015.
Assam, especially, the area north of Brahmaputra River is well endowed with natural resources like oil, natural gas, and Assam tea. Right from the British era, the poor peasants from East Bengal, now Bangladesh started drifting for better opportunities to Assam and West Bengal.
However, the problem got aggravated when the Government of India decided to open the floodgates for refugees seeking asylum in India from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), before its separation from Pakistan in 1971.
Moreover, originally Assam was a mega-State with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Mizoram all a part of the State.
Nagaland was carved out of Assam in 1963 and Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram became UTs in 1972 and assumed Statehood in 1987, Meghalaya was formed in 1972 to accommodate territorial aspirations of Nagas, Khasis, Mizos and Garos, respectively.
Consequently, Assam has seen a number of clashes between the original inhabitants and the outsiders on territorial issues.
Though it was agreed in principle in 1985, it was only on 17 November 1999 that the Centre sanctioned 20 lakh for the purpose of NRC update and released Rs 5 Lakh to commence the exercise.
The Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government created a Directorate for updating the NRC on 05 May 2005 and the process of computerization of 1951 NRC and voters list up to the year 1971 commenced.
Assam Accord – 1985
The agitation program that carried on from 1979 to 1985 compelled the government to sign the ‘Assam Accord’ with the leaders of AASU-AAGSP in 1985.
This peace accord amongst other things prescribed the cutoff date to accept legal citizens of Assam, as midnight of 24th March 1971. It means that all persons who have entered Assam after this date will become illegal migrants.
In other words, those persons (or their decedents), whose name appear in the NRC 1951, or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March 1971, can be verified as legal citizens of Assam.
The NRC 1951 and the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March 1971 together are collectively called ‘Legacy Data’.
However, there is a provision available to submit other admissible documents in the ongoing verification for updating NRC in case someone’s name is not found in the Legacy Data, like, land records, or permanent citizenship certificate issued by another Indian state, etc.
Government has setup 2500 NRC Sewa Kendras throughout the State for obtaining Legacy Data and to update personal records.
The updated NRC shall contain the names of persons eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC by virtue of being original inhabitants of Assam.
Petition against the Cutoff Date Prescribed in Assam Accord
The constitutionality of the cutoff date prescribed in the Assam Accord for the person to be declared an illegal migrant has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Section 6 (A) was inserted as an amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955, which gave citizenship to all migrants from Bangladesh who came to Assam till the midnight of 24th March 1971, while the cut-off date for the rest of the country is 19th July 1948.
The reason for keeping the 1971 deadline was that it could accommodate all those who fled Bangladesh (East Pakistan) to save themselves from being prosecuted during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, but kept out all those who had entered India during the 1971 war that saw the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
However, the petitioner contends that Section 6 (A) of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 was included as an amendment to the Citizenship Act after the Assam Accord of 1985 was signed and is hence unconstitutional.O
- The updating of NRC will lead to the identification of illegal migrants and the resources of the indigenous Assamese people will be rightfully secured.
- It will be possible for the state and center government to carry out targeted Public Distribution of basic necessities and amenities to the deserving.
- A huge chunk of vote bank, especially Muslims from Bangladesh, will become invalid. This will help the ruling BJP government, to appease the existing Assamese voters by meeting their aspirations and also nullifying the negative Muslim votes.
- Implementation of a number of very ambitious development projects in Assam and other North East states that are in the pipeline will need a workforce. Providing work-permits to these illegal migrants can assure a readily available unskilled workforce at cheaper rates.
- Assam will become violence-free as the question of illegal migrants would be resolved and work for the development of the State can commence unhindered and without any fear of disruptiON.
The updation of NRC is essentially required to ensure that the cultural and ethnic integrity of Assam is restored and the Assamese people can access and utilize the resources that are rightfully theirs.
However, it will also be important to find a via-media to safeguard the human rights of thousands of migrants who will become illegal citizens or perhaps stateless, in many cases because their ancestors had illegally migrated.