NRC is the National Register of Citizens, which contains the names of Indian citizens who call Assam their home. Currently, Assam is the only State in the country to have an NRC. The NRC was first prepared in 1951 after the Census of 1951. Over the years, people from other countries, especially East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), have migrated to India through Assam illegally. With the multi-fold increase of immigrants creating unrest among the original residents of Assam, the government wanted to update the NRC.
The updating process began in 2015, following a Supreme Court directive to the government to keep up with the Assam Accord of 1985. The Assam Accord was signed between the Centre and leaders of the Assam movement following a six-year-long Assam Agitation since 1979 against illegal information from Bangladesh. One of the key clauses of the accord stipulated that all immigrants who entered Assam on or after 25 March 1971 were to native country. The Assam Accord set March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date because it was on March 25, 1971 that the Bangladesh Liberation War began, sending lakhs of immigrants from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) into Assam and West Bengal.
NRC was a State-specific exercise to retain the ethnic uniqueness of Assam. The updated final list of NRC was published on August 31, 2019. Of the 3.3 crore applicants, over 19 lakh failed to make it to the list. Following the NRC publication, the ministries of Home and External Affairs had made it clear that the mere exclusion does not make a resident a ‘foreigner’, and that the decision can only be taken by Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) set up for the purpose in the State. Reports have suggested that a large number of genuine residents have been excluded from the list, causing them immense mental agony and trauma.
One year since
It’s been a year since 19,06,657 people were excluded from the NRC in Assam. They are yet to receive rejection slips citing the reasons behind their exclusion. Only after getting the rejection slips can they appeal at the FTs for judging their citizenship status. As per rules, a rejected person will have 120 days from the date of receiving the rejection slip to approach an FT. “Discrepancies” in paperwork, lack of enough staff for re-checks owing to the ongoing pandemic and the repeated floods in Assam have been cited as the reasons for the delay in issuing rejection slips to the excluded persons.
According to State NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sharma, the slips cannot be issued until COVID-19 is brought under control.
How many have so far been deported?
According to the Assam government, only 27 illegal immigrants, most of them from Bangladesh, have been deported in nearly seven-and-a-half-years since 2013. It is said that the number of deportations is small as the persons contest in higher courts the verdicts against them after being declared illegal foreigners in the FTs.
How many FTs are there now?
According to State Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, at present, 100 FTs are functioning and the Centre has approved 400 more. The recruitment for 200 FTs is on. Currently, over 400 people are lodged in six detention centres across the State. A total 1,36,149 people have been declared as illegal foreigners by the FTs till July 31, 2020.
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