Assam NRC on 31August: To mitigate resentment, Sarbananda Sonowal hints at legislation to tackle wrongful inclusion
By Firstpost 22-Aug-2019
On Monday, when asked by journalists in New Delhi whether the government will explore some legislative options to deal with those whose names may be wrongfully included in the final NRC, he indicated that the government may explore such options.
File image of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. PTI
Sonowal’s statement comes at a time when the allegations of wrongful inclusions and exclusions are repeatedly making headlines and the Supreme Court also has turned down Assam government’s plea to re-check the veracity of the entries in the NRC.
The chief minister’s statement seems to aim at containing people’s discontent that may arise due to the publication of a flawed NRC.
There is no denying the fact that the allegations of wrongful inclusion and exclusion which emerge on account of rampant misuse of legacy data and gross administrative fallacies require adequate time to rectify. Sonowal’s statement seems to be an attempt to buy it from his electorates by assuring them that publication of the NRC is not the end of the road and rectification measures can be adopted even after that.
What is legacy data
As per the NRC authorities legacy data is the sum of documents namely 1951 NRC (National Register of Citizens) and Electoral Rolls up to midnight of 24 March, 1971. These documents are required to be submitted to the NRC authorities to prove conclusively that a person who has applied for inclusion in the NRC or his ancestors lived in Assam before 25 March of the year 1971- the cut-off date.
But a good number of cases of submission of wrong legacy data by applicants have also come to light.
How legacy data is misused
Recently, an FIR has been filed at a police station in Nalbari district by a person named Nurul Islam alleging that his father’s legacy data has been illegally used by another family of the same district.
“My father’s name is Qutub Ali, and the family which has used my legacy data had an ancestor who shares the same name. I have informed about the wrong use of the legacy data to NRC authorities. But despite my intimation, my family has been summoned for hearings again and again,” he said to Firstpost.
Mass scale wrong inclusion in the NRC has been doubted by many in the Assam government itself as a number of districts in the India-Bangladesh border which are seen as highly prone to illegal immigration have shown higher inclusion rates than the districts which are located far from the border.
What are the fears
While putting across his point in support of re-verification of NRC entries, Assam minister Chandra Mohan Patowary recently said in the Assembly, “According to data, 12.15 percent applicants’ names were excluded from the final draft. In districts close to the Bangladesh border, like South Salmara, 7.22 percent applicants were excluded from the draft NRC. This figure in Dhubri is 8.26 percent and in Karimganj 7.67 percent. But districts where indigenous people live, like Karbi Anglong, the figure is 14.31 percent and in upper Assam’s Tinsukia, where sons of the soil have been living for ages, this figure is 13.25 percent.”
Patowary’s views only present the fear inclusion of non-citizens in the NRC and exclusion of bonafide citizens from the citizenship document.
What NRC authorities say
Last year NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela too submitted a series of instances of misuse of legacy data before the Supreme Court and alleged trading of legacy data by unscrupulous elements to include non-citizens in the NRC.
Though in a recent submission in the Supreme Court, the NRC authorities stated against the plea to re-verify saying that 27 percent of the entries have already been re-verified, but new cases of misuse of NRC legacy data suggest that the job might not have been done as immaculately as projected.
In recent times the media has been flooded with stories of wrongful exclusions and inclusions due to administrative fallacies in the process of NRC update.
Upamanyu Hazarika, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India who has been vocal about the issue related to the identification of illegal migrants, said that the NRC update is all about documentation. “If you fulfil the criteria to be in the list, you make it. Or else you do not make it. It is as simple as that," he said.
But he admitted that there are also administrative fallacies which sometimes govern the procedure.
“If a person, born and brought up in one district, submits his documents in another one, he may not find his name in the NRC,” Hazarika said.
But recent examples of wrongful exclusions and inclusions show that administrative fallacies could be manifold.
The outcome of administrative fallacy
The worst example of administrative fallacy in the NRC update process was the draft exclusion list published on 26 June by the NRC authorities excluding the people who wrongly made it to the list.
Persons who were found to be Declared Foreigners or Doubtful Voters or persons with cases pending at Foreigners' Tribunals or their descendants but were wrongly included in the Draft NRC were excluded through this list.
“The very publication of the draft additional exclusion list shows that there was no in-built mechanism in the NRC update process to keep declared foreigners away from being included in the list. This suggests that there is a fundamental flaw and lacunae in the NRC process,” said Hazarika.
On account of these lacunae in the NRC update process even a Kargil war veteran Mohammed Sanaullah and a family member of late Vaijayanti Devi who has been declared as one of the martyrs of the Assam Movement by the government of Assam were left out of the citizenship documents. No wonder, due to such instances the credibility of the NRC update process has taken a beating.
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