National register of Citizens
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TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Functions and responsibilities of the Union and the States, issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
In news: In the run-up to the publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, citizenship has become the most talked about topic in the country. The Assam government has been taking various steps in relation to those who will be left out of the NRC, while the Supreme Court last week rejected a plea to include those born in India between after March 24, 1971 and before July 1, 1987 unless they had ancestral links to India. In any other Indian state, they would have been citizens by birth, but the law is different for Assam.
The final list of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) excluded names of over 19 lakh applicants. A total of 3.30 crore applicants had applied to be included in the NRC.
How does one prove citizenship?
In Assam, one of the basic criteria was that the names of applicant’s family members should either be in the first NRC prepared in 1951 or in the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971.
Other than that, applicants also had the option to present documents such as refugee registration certificate, birth certificate, LIC policy, land and tenancy records, citizenship certificate, passport, government issued licence or certificate, bank/post office accounts, permanent residential certificate, government employment certificate, educational certificate and court records.
Why is it called an “updated” NRC?
Witness to decades of migration from Bangladesh — formerly East Bengal and then East Pakistan — Assam already has an NRC, which was published in 1951 on the basis of that year’s Census. The only state with such a document, Assam is currently updating it to identify its citizens.
The update, mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court, is a fallout of the Assam Accord of 1985, which sets March 24, 1971 as the cutoff date for citizenship. Those who entered Assam before that date are recognised as citizens.
But was there not an updated NRC last year itself?
That was a draft, published in July 2018. In that list, 2.89 crore residents were included as Indian citizens, while 40 lakh were left out. After that, those who were left out were allowed to file claims for inclusion. Meanwhile, citizens had the option of filing objections against anyone who they felt was wrongly included. Earlier this year, NRC authorities put out an additional exclusion list, with 1 lakh individuals, who had originally been included in the NRC draft but were later found eligible. Saturday’s NRC is the result of all those included an excluded.
Does this mean that the 19 lakh are illegal migrants?
Not necessarily. They still have the option of appealing. They can approach, within a deadline, a Foreigners Tribunal with a certified copy of the rejection order from the NRC, along with the grounds for appeal. In addition to the 100 existing Foreigners Tribunals, 200 more will be functional soon, state government officials said. If the applicant loses their case before such a Tribunal, he or she can appeal in the High Court, and then the Supreme Court if necessary. Someone who is not only excluded from the final NRC but also loses his or her case in a Foreigners Tribunal, however, faces possible arrest, and the prospect of being sent to a detention centre.
How do those excluded back up their claims for inclusion?
They will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971. This is the cutoff date in the Assam Accord of 1985, agreed upon by the Centre, the state and the All Assam Students’ Union, at the end of a six-year movement against migration from Bangladesh.
Surviving citizens from the 1951 NRC are automatically eligible for inclusion in the updated version. So are descendants of the survivors and of the deceased — provided that they can prove their lineage. Linkage to the 1951 NRC is, however, not compulsory. Going by the cutoff under the Assam Accord, anyone who figured in electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or who are descendants of such citizens, are eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC. Various other documents are admissible — such as birth certificates and land records — as long as these were issued before the cut-off date.
Wouldn’t those rejected have already submitted such papers?
Since the NRC includes only those who could establish their linkage to March 24, 1971 or earlier, it would suggest that the excluded 19 lakh submitted papers that were not enough to establish this linkage. Those who were rejected on the basis of submitted papers will face an additional concern, for they could face rejection again if they submit the same papers a second time. They face the task of finding documents other than those that were rejected.
If even legal recourse fails for those excluded, will they be deported?
Although the Assam movement was for deportation, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam. The state also has six detention camps (with plants to build more) for illegal migrants within existing jails, and proposes to build a seventh with a capacity for 3,000. These cannot, however, be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into lakhs.
If not deported or detained in a camp, how would life change for the finally excluded individuals?
They would officially be non-citizens, but what happens to them remains a grey area. India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons, Home Ministry sources said. The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education. There have been suggestions in Assam that they be given work permits — Home Ministry sources said that this may come under consideration — but certain sections have been opposing this idea, too.
But aren’t there policies for refugees?
Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee. India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls. For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits. Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.
What are detention centres?
These are for persons declared “illegal foreigners”. As of now, there are six detention camps in Assam, housed in existing jails. State government officials said there are plans to build 10 more detention centres and a detailed project report is being sent to the Centre.
The six existing centres together hold around 1,000 persons. Declared “illegal foreigners” by the Foreigners Tribunals, many of them claim to be Indians. India has no treaty with Bangladesh that would have facilitated their deportation. Since 2013, Assam has deported 166 persons (162 “convicted” and four “declared”) including 147 to Bangladesh, according to government data until February 2019. In case of those declared foreigners in Assam, the question widely being asked is whether deportation can be possible unless Bangladesh accepts them as migrants from there.
- It is the register containing names of Indian Citizens. It was prepared first in 1951 after the conduct of the Census of 1951.
- It is used to identify who is a bona fide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants.
Pre-independence: Assam’s demographic changes date back to the introduction of the plantation economy by the colonial state in the 19th century. The colonial state brought in tribal labourers from Chota Nagpur and Bihar to work the plantations and encouraged the migration of Muslim farmers from Bengal.
Post-independence: Migrations continued after Independence even as Partition solidified national identities. The ethnic, cultural and religious dimensions of the situation demanded sensitive and imaginative solutions from the political class.
- In 1970s, All Assam Students’ Union spearheaded a massive drive, popularly known as the Assam Agitation calling for the detection, deletion and deportation of illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court finally ordered to complete the exercise by December 31, 2017, leading to the present updating of NRC in Assam.
Benefits of NRC:
- Detection of illegal immigrants, inclusion will be a shield against harassment and a ticket to enjoying all the constitutional rights and safeguards and the benefits of government schemes.
- To safeguard the indigenous population and civilization.
- Illegal activities like terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking can be checked.
- To safeguard Voting rights and properties such as land and house.
Controversies related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC):
- Laborious process: Adding a person to NRC is complex procedure because of presenting many documents and layers of verification.
- Document verification: “Family tree verification” has become difficult process for left out children.
- Rejection of certificate: More than 40 lakh people are rejected for panchayath residency certificates.
- Citizenship related: Failed to ensure legal clarity over the manner in which the claims of citizenship could be decided.
- Role of Supreme Court: lack of monitoring process, inability to comprehend political and policy actions in case of loss of citizenship.
- Huge population: Given the size of India’s population, implementation of the NRC will be a mammoth task and demands a detailed analysis.
Connecting the dots:
- Assam has excluded four million people from its National Register of Citizens (NRC). Now, it doesn’t know what to do with them. Comment.
- Modern nations are products of migrations and cultural diffusion and all the richer for it. NRC process doesn’t seem alive to this reality. Discuss.
- Political parties must stop feasting on the complexities of Assam’s demography. Examine.