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Baba’s Explainer – National Register of Citizens (NRC)

  • IASbaba
  • May 20, 2022
  • 0
Governance, Indian Polity & Constitution
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Syllabus

  • GS-2: Citizenship, Federalism
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Why in News: The State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Assam has requested members of foreigner’s tribunals across the state not to consider the draft NRC and supplementary list as reliable evidence for disposal of cases under it.

  • Reason – Final NRC is yet to be published by the Registrar General of Citizens Registration which is mandatory as per cause 7 of the Schedule of the Citizenship Rules, 2003. Before that there is possibility reverification of names considering the errors.
  • Results of the Draft NRC and Supplementary list may change when Final NRC gets published
What is the NRC and when did it start?
  • At its core, the NRC is an official record of those who are legal Indian citizens. The NRC was born out of independent India’s first census in 1951, entailing the transfer of data from the Census slips.
  • It includes demographic information about all those individuals who qualify as citizens of India as per the Citizenship Act, 1955.
  • All States were mandated to compile an NRC but it was done only in Assam.
    • Manipur and Tripura were also granted permission to create their own NRCs, but it never materialised
  • The intention behind carrying out such an exercise in Assam was to prepare a village-based inventory of residents in view of the resistance from the State — then undivided — to house post-Partition refugees.
    • Assam saw waves of migration, first as a colonial province and then as a border state in independent India
  • The first National Register of Citizens was compiled in 1951, after the Census was completed that year. This NRC was prepared under a directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • The NRC list of Assam comprised of those who lived in India on January 26, 1950, or were born in India or had parents who were born in India or had been living in India for at least five years before the January 26, 1950 cut-off.
Is there any legal basis for NRC?
  • The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for compulsorily registration of every citizen of India and issuance of National Identity Card to him.
  • The Citizenship Rules, 2003 framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955 prescribe the manner of preparation of the National Register of Citizens.
  • There is a special provision under the Rules to prepare National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam which is application based and distinct from the rest of India where the process is enumeration based.
Why there was a demand for updation of NRC in Assam?
  • The fear of the indigenous people of being outnumbered by “illegal immigrants” during and after the 1971 Bangladesh War led to the Assam Agitation from 1979 to 1985.
  • Assamese ethnic nationalists claimed illegal immigrants had entered electoral rolls and were taking away the right of communities defined as indigenous to determine their political future.
  • The demand for updating the 1951 NRC so as to identify so-called “illegal immigrants and eject these foreigners from Assam was raised during the agitation.
  • In 1985, the anti-foreigners’ agitation led by the All Assam Students’ Union came to an end with the signing of the Assam Accord.
    • Under this accord, those who entered the state between 1966 and 1971 would be deleted from the electoral rolls and lose their voting rights for 10 years, after which their names would be restored to the rolls.
    • Those who entered on or after March 25, 1971, the eve of the Bangladesh War, would be declared foreigners and deported.
  • Therefore, NRC for Assam now takes its definition of illegal immigrants from the Assam Accord – anyone who cannot prove that they or their ancestors entered the country before the midnight of March 24, 1971, would be declared a foreigner and face deportation.
  • However, the exercise never materialised.
Why is the NRC being updated now?
  • The mechanism for detecting so-called foreigners had previously been delineated by the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983. This was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2005, on a petition which argued that the provisions of the law were so stringent, they made the “detection and deportation of illegal migrants almost impossible”.
  • That same year, the decision to start updating the National Register of Citizens was taken at a tripartite meeting attended by the Centre, the Assam government as well as the All Assam Students’ Union.
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to finalise the modalities to update the new National Register of Citizens for Assam.
  • The project was launched in earnest from 2015, monitored directly by the Supreme Court.
How was the NRC updation process in Assam carried out?
  • The entire updation process was executed by the Assam’s administrative machinery. The mammoth counting process went through several phases.
  • First, there was data collection. Most individuals applying for inclusion into the NRC had to prove not only that their ancestors had lived in Assam pre-1971 but also their relationship with the ancestor.
  • To prove their or their ancestors’ presence before 1971, applicants in Assam had to produce any one of 14 possible documents:
    • 1951 NRC; or
    • Electoral roll(s) up to March 24, 1971; or
    • Anyone of 12 other kinds of papers, such as land & tenancy records; citizenship papers; passport; Board/University certificate.
  • Then came the verification process. Documents were sent to the original issuing authorities while NRC officials conducted field verification. Once the data was submitted, the applicant’s blood relations were plotted on a family tree.
  • People listed in the 1951 NRC and their descendants had a comparatively smooth inclusion in the NRC list.
Why was the process so contentious?
  • Bengali Muslims, the community most often branded as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, felt they were put under greater scrutiny than other groups.
  • These fears were deepened with the sudden appearance of an “original inhabitants” category in 2017, which faced less scrutiny.
  • Then in March 2017, the Gauhati High Court ruled that residency certificates issued by gram panchayats could not be used as a link document connecting people born after 1971 with their ancestors.
  • The Supreme Court later overturned this decision and panchayat certificates were allowed, provided they were verified and submitted with additional documentary proof.

The second draft was published on July 30, 2018. It excluded 2.48 lakh “D” voters and their descendants. It was reported that even “D” voters who had fought cases and got their names cleared in Foreigners’ Tribunals were continued to viewed as “D” voters & excluded from the list.

  • D voters or doubtful voters are people who had their voting rights suspended by the Election Commission because their citizenship was suddenly in doubt.
  • A draft was published on July 30th, 2018. Of the 3.3 crore people who applied, 2.89 crore people made it to the draft list whereas over 40.07 lakh were excluded.
    • The excluded included army veterans, government employees, families of former presidents and Assam’s only woman chief minister.
  • After publication of draft list, all those left out of the list were told to make fresh claims to citizenship.
  • As per Supreme Court deadline, the complete NRC draft was published on August 31, 2019. This draft excluded 19.06-lakh out of the 3.3 crore people who had applied for inclusion.
  • NRC publication on 31st Aug 2019 has annoyed political parties across the ideological divide with some
    • alleging it victimised document-less Bengali Hindus and indigenous Assamese people
    • others alleging that it targeted the State’s Bengali-origin Muslims.
  • Re-verification demand: In May 2021, the State NRC authority has filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking re-verification of the August 31, 2019 list, citing inclusion and exclusion errors.
    • Assam Chief Minister has on record stated that the State government wants 20% re-verification in the districts bordering Bangladesh and 10% in others.
    • Another repetition of the NRC even on smaller scale, whether led by the judiciary or the executive, would rely on the same administrative set-up.
What happens to the people left out of the final list?
  • “Non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared a foreigner,” govt has said.
  • Government has also clarified that individuals would not be detained for failing to make it to the final list.
  • Those who do not make it to the final list will have to appear before the Foreigners’ Tribunals of Assam.
    • These quasi-judicial bodies were originally set up under the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act of 1983. The law has since been struck down by the court but the tribunals persist, tasked with determining whether individuals being tried are foreigners and should be deported.
    • In anticipation of a fresh rush of cases after the final list, 1,000 more tribunals are being set up across the state.
  • If one loses the case in the tribunal, the person can move the high court and, then, the Supreme Court. 
  • However, on the execution side, the issuance of rejection slips to those left out of the NRC has not begun, a necessary step to file appeals in the Foreigner Tribunals.
    • After receiving such a slip with an explanation of why he or she has been left out of the NRC, a person would have to approach the FT concerned within 120 days with documents to prove his or her citizenship.
What happens to those who lose cases at the Foreigners Tribunals & courts?
  • Neither the state nor the Centre has clarified what happens to those who lose their cases in the Foreigners’ Tribunals, whether they will be detained, deported or allowed to stay on without the rights and privileges of citizenship.
  • While the Indian state has declared them foreigners, there is no repatriation treaty under which they can be deported to Bangladesh.
  • In the past, those deemed to be foreigners have been transferred to detention centres in the state. Till date, there are six across Assam, carved out of local prisons.
  • There are fears that excluded people will be put in detention centres, however, given the huge numbers of excluded people, this will be logistically impractical.
What is the present status of Assam NRC?
  • The government has not accepted the list as final and has decided to approach the Supreme Court for a “corrected” NRC. Supreme Court is yet to hear this matter.
  • The government, however, has decided to push for unfreezing the biometrics of 21 lakh people, collected during the updating exercise, to enable them to get Aadhaar cards, which can be locked again if a person is eventually marked as a non-citizen.
  • Meanwhile, in Sep 2021 Foreigner Tribunal (FT) in southern Assam’s Karimganj district declared a doubtful migrant as Indian while observing that members of his family figured in the August 2019 list referred to as the “final NRC”. However, this is being contended by Assam government stating that the FT cannot rely on “NRC” published while deciding on the cases
    • In 2021, Assam CM submitted an affidavit at the Gauhati High Court, referring to the August 2019 NRC as a “supplementary list” and not the “final NRC” and sought a re-verification.
  • According to the State Coordinator, only the office of the Registrar General of India has the authority to publish the final NRC and a notification in this regard is yet to be issued.
Is NRC related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)?
  • Protesters in Assam are of the view that CAA violates the Assam Accord, which states the cut-off date to be March 24, 1971. However, CAA sets the cut-off date as December 31, 2014.
  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 aims to facilitate grant of citizenship to migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who entered into India on or before the 31.12.2014
Will there be a nationwide NRC?
  • Though Home Minister initially proposed to extend the NRC exercise to all the states, he has now gone back on his word.
  • On December 24, 2019, he asserted there has been no discussion on a nationwide NRC.
  • His statement comes in the backdrop of protests against the NRC and the amended Citizenship law that rocked the country in 2019 & 2020.
  • Also, several chief ministers have declared they would not allow the NRC to be implementation in their states.
  • Till Now, the Government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) at National Level.
What is NPR?
  • National Population Register (NPR) is a register of usual residents of the country.
  • It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR. It includes both Indian citizens as well as a foreign citizen.
    • According to the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, a usual resident is a person who has resided in a local area for the past 6 months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next 6 months or more.
  • The first National Population Register was prepared in 2010 and updating this data was done during 2015 by conducting door to door survey.
  • The next update of the NPR was planned to take place along with the House listing phase of the Census 2021.
    • It is being prepared at the local (Village/sub-Town), sub-District, District, State and National level.
    • The demographic and other particulars of each family and individual were to be updated/collected during the exercise of updation of NPR. No document is to be collected during this exercise.
    • However, due to outbreak of Covid-19, the updation of NPR and other related field activities have been postponed.

 About Census:

  • The Census is the enumeration of the population of the country It is being conducted at an interval of 10 years.
  • Census 2021 will be 16th census in the country since the first census happened in 1872
  • For the first time, the Census 2021 will use the Mobile App for data collection. It will also provide a facility to the public for self-enumeration.

 Is NPR connected to NRC?

  • The Citizenship Act empowers the government to compulsorily register every citizen and maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens.
  • A nationwide NRC — if undertaken — would flow out of NPR.
  • This does not necessarily mean that an NRC must follow NPR — no such register was compiled after the previous NPR in 2010.
  • After a list of residents is created, a nationwide NRC — if it happens — could go about verifying the citizens from that list.


Mains Practice Question – What are the intended benefits of National Register of Citizens (NRC)? Explain. Is it a good idea to have a national level NRC? Critically examine.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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