National Register of Citizens

Recently, the government released the first updated draft of National Register of Citizens including 1.9 crore citizens out of 3.29 crore applications. Other applicants will be considered in the second draft and the exercise will be expected to be complete by 2018.This exercise is undertaken to distinguish between Indian citizens and illegal migrants in Assam.

What is National register of citizens?

It is a list of Indian citizens which is meant to decide who is a bona fide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants. First list was made in 1951 across India according to the census of that year. It is for the first time that it is being updated and that too only in Assam. Now, it is not linked to census but one has to link oneself to a family member whose name had appeared either in the NRC of 1951, or to any of the state’s electoral rolls prepared till midnight of 24th march 1971. The year of 1971 is chosen as it was agreed in Assam accord 1985.If the applicant’s name is not on any of these lists, he can produce any of the 12 other documents dated up to March 24, 1971, like land or tenancy record, citizenship certificate or permanent residential certificate or passport or court records or refugee registration certificate.

What is the rationale behind the move?

Since 1950s, there is lot controversy regarding migration and citizenship issues. Original inhabitants of Assam always fear that migrants from Bangladesh would compete them with jobs, land and eventually hamper their culture. In late 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. Assam also witnessed political instability, frequent strikes boycott of elections, thus, bringing the whole state to a standstill. To quell the agitation Assam accord was signed in 1985 between Rajiv Gandhi and leader of Assam movement led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the ‘All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad’ (AAGSP).Consequently, it paved the way for the formation of government in Assam and promote instability. The demands put forth by them regarding migration issues were:

  • All those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship, including the right to vote.
  • Those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported; the entrants between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship.
  • Anyone who entered the state without documents after March 24, 1971 will be declared a foreigner and were to be deported.

However, the provisions in the Assam accord were not implemented for a long time. Following this, another agreement was signed in 2005 between the Centre, the Assam government and the AASU and decision was taken to update the NRC on the basis of NRC 1951 and electoral rolls up to 1971. The meeting also fixed a 2-year deadline to complete the exercise. As a result, a pilot project was launched in some districts but it soon erupted violent agitations by groups opposed to such exercise and the NRC update was halted. Thereafter, in 2009 Assam Public Works (APW), an NGO filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding identification of Bangladeshi foreigners in the State and deletion of their names from the voters’ list. Finally the Supreme Court ordered in 2013 to complete the exercise by December 31, 2017 leading to the present updating of NRC.

What are the possible challenges?

Following are the changes:

Conflict with citizenship bill
  • Government is mulling to pass Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis, who have entered Assam illegally post-1971. But once NRC exercise will be completed, a lot of Hindu Bangladeshi might not appear in the list, thus, will be designated as illegal migrants. Thus, it will lead to confusion and moreover harden the resolve of people not to assimilate Hindu Bangladeshi in Assam according to NRC.
Exclusion of people
  • Draft NRC could lead to exclusion and inclusion errors and consequently large number of legitimate Indian citizens could end up being denied their voting and other rights.
Create fault lines
  • There is already lot of tension in Assam between Hindus and Muslims. Exclusion of some people might raise apprehensions of exclusion of a particular community creating new fault lines leading to social unrest and further communal tensions.
No deportation treaty
  • It is been declared that illegal migrants out of the list of NRC will be sent back to Bangladesh however India does not have any deportation treaty with Bangladeshwhich will lead to further complexities.

Updating the national register of citizens is indeed a positive step but the actual success lies in its peaceful implementation.

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