The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an official record of all the legal citizens of India. So far, Assam is the only state with such a document. It is governed by the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 (amended in 2009) and a 2010 order of the Ministry of Home Affairs, published in the Gazette of India. It will include persons whose names appear in any of the electoral rolls upto the midnight of 24th March, 1971 or National Register of Citizens, 1951 and their descendants.
The NRC preparation was the biggest exercise in India carried out under the supervision of the Supreme Court to identify illegal immigrants, as well as their descendants, settled illegally in state of Assam.
NRC- National Register of Citizens
Difference between NRC and Census
The NRC is different from a census as the census is conducted every decade on a national level and gives the state a window into the size and nature of Indian population. There is no obligation with the citizens to prove their citizenship claims and rights in a census.
However, the NRC is a unique exercise, in which onus to prove citizenship lies with the citizens. They have to, through documentary evidence, show how they have come to be citizens of India living in Assam. The NRC has its roots in the Memorandum of Settlement or the Assam Accord signed between the Assam State Students Union and the Government of India in 1985.
The Assam Accord
The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15th August, 1985. The accord was an outcome of the violent anti-migrant movement from 1979-85. It contained provisions that all ‘foreigners’ who came to Assam after 25th March, 1971 should be detected and deported under the Illegal Migration (Determination by Tribunals) Act (IMDT), 1983. Those Bangladeshis who came between 1966 and 1971 had to be barred from voting for ten years and the international borders would be sealed and all persons who crossed over from Bangladesh after 1971 were to be deported.
History of NRC
The process of NRC update was taken up in Assam as per a Supreme Court order in 2013. In order to stop cases of illegal migration from Bangladesh and other adjoining areas, NRC updation was carried out under The Citizenship Act, 1955 and according to rules framed in the Assam Accord. The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended after the Assam Accord for all Indian-origin people who came from Bangladesh before 1st January, 1966 to be deemed as citizens.
Those who came between 1st January, 1966 and 25th March, 1971 were eligible for citizenship after registering and living in the state for 10 years while those entering after 25th March, 1971 were to be deported. In 2014, the Supreme Court asked the state government to update the 1951 NRC in a time-bound manner. Present exercise has been conducted under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
Process of NRC
The verification process involved house-to-house field verification, determination of authenticity of documents, family tree investigations in order to rule out any false claim of parenthood and separate hearings for married women. Existence of name in the legacy data which is the collective list of the NRC data of 1951 and the electoral rolls upto midnight of 24th March, 1971 and proving linkage with the person whose name appears in the legacy data serve as a citizenship proof for the exercise. The excluded people had about 120 days to appeal against their exclusion to the foreigner tribunals. To speed up the process 200 new tribunals had been made functional in addition to the already existing. If they are not satisfied with the tribunals, people can also move to High Court and the Supreme Court for redressal.
Challenges Related with NRC
This exercise of compiling the NRC has sparked a debate around its social, political and economic consequences of migration and the resulting outbreaks like there are concerns that NRC may end up incorrectly including or excluding people from the list. There is also an issue related to D voters (Dubious voters or Doubtful voters) i.e., those who are disenfranchised by the government on the account of their alleged lack of proper citizenship credentials and their inclusion will depend on decision of the Foreigners Tribunal.
There is also a fear that this may end up targeting minorities in the country. On top of that Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 which makes illegal Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship further creates apprehensions about alienation of minorities in the process. Also there are apprehensions that India will end up creating the newest section of stateless people, raising the spectre of homegrown crisis that will echo that of Rohingya people who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. It is tough to differentiate illegal immigrants from the genuine and legitimate citizens of Assam, as the language spoken by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the indigenous Bengali speaking Muslim of Assam, is similar.
Impact of Illegal Migration on Assam
Large areas of forest land was encroached upon by the immigrants for settlement and cultivation. The state experienced declining per cent of land area under forest From 39% in 1951-52 to about 30% now.
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion found that tension usually exists with the presence of high levels of migration combine with other forms of social exclusion like poverty, poor housing etc. The influx of immigrants created a crisis of identity among the indigenous people. Their cultural survival will be in threat, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined by such illegal migration. The recent Bodo-Muslim violence in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts has its root in the issue of illegal migration.
Immigration has increased pressure on the part of state government, as the government has to increase the expenditure on education and health facilities to the immigrants. There is a fear particularly during a recession that immigrants take jobs which would otherwise be taken by local people. In particular place and circumstances, there can be competition and conflict. Immigrants in every year have been adding a good number of people in Assam. It is one of the main reasons of population explosion. Due to this, there is a possibility of decreasing wage level. Most of the Bangladeshi immigrants have got their names enlisted in the voting list illegally, thereby claiming themselves as citizens of the state. The immigrant’s population act as a vote bank for the political parties in Assam. Pakistan’s ISI has been active in Bangladesh, supporting militant movements in Assam. It is alleged that among the illegal migrants there are also militants, who enter into Assam to carry out the terrorist activities.
Significance of NRC
Despite all the repercussions and challenges that an NRC will have, it is very much in the good faith of the nation. It will provide a long-term solution to curt illegal migration from Bangladesh, by diplomatic and border management efforts to yield desired results, as Bangladesh does not recognise any infiltration taking place from its territory to India and the porous border between India and Bangladesh hinders effective border management. The fear that illegal immigrants will change the demography of state from the mind of locals will be removed. It is also expected to deter future migrants from Bangladesh from entering Assam illegally as publication of the draft itself had created a perception that staying in Assam without valid documentation will attract detention/jail term and deportation.
Thus, India has a very complex task ahead, to comply with the basic tenets of the Constitution i.e. safeguard the Fundamental Rights of the legitimate citizens of the country without violating the basic human rights of the migrants who may be excluded after the exercise as non-citizen class. The bordering states of the nation must be made secure of future illegal cross border movement as it is the foremos step in checking illegal immigration through porous borders.
Hence, it will need comprehensive border management, bilateral treaties with neighbouring nations to identify and deport such migrants. In doing so, India can actively engage International Bodies like UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), etc., for experience and expertise. India can also initiate for the signing and ratification of the Refugee Convention of 1951 by members of SAARC. The road ahead amidst of all its apprehensions, the NRC is a forward-looking step in documenting India’s citizens and detects and deters infiltrators. The cooperation of the states will be the key for the success of NRC.
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