RSTV: IN DEPTH- NRC (NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS)
On 31st August, the updated National Registry of Citizens was released in Assam after a Supreme Court deadline. Of the 3.3 crore applicants, 3.11 crore figured in the final citizens’ list, while about 19 lakh residents were excluded. This led to protests about an uncertain future of such a large number of people. The government, however, has allayed all such fears, saying no person whose name is not there in the final list will be detained till he / she exhausts all legal remedies.
The excluded people have about 120 days to appeal against their exclusion to the foreigner tribunals. To speed up the process 200 new tribunals have 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. The NRC exercise is the biggest in India, carried out under the supervision of the Supreme Court to weed out illegal immigrants, as well as their descendants, settled illegally in India.
- 1951: First NRC prepared
- First NRC to check illegal inflow of people.
- 2013: SC directs state to update NRC
- 2015: Process to update NRC begins
- 2018: Draft released; 4,007,707 names excluded
- June 2019: Additional Draft excludes 1,02,462 people.
- August 31: 19 lakh people left out of NRC
- Existence of name in the legacy data: The legacy data is the collective list of the NRC data of 1951 and the electoral rolls up to midnight of 24 March 1971.
- Proving linkage with the person whose name appears in the legacy data.
Why was it updated?
The process of NRC update was taken up in Assam as per a Supreme Court order in 2013. In order to wean out 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.
Why is March 24, 1971 the cut-off date?
There have been several waves of migration to Assam from Bangladesh, but the biggest was in March 1971 when the Pakistan army crackdown forced many to flee to India. The Assam Accord of 1985 that ended the six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation decided upon the midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date.
Who is a citizen in Assam?
The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended after the Assam Accord for all Indian-origin people who came from Bangladesh before January 1, 1966 to be deemed as citizens. Those who came between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 were eligible for citizenship after registering and living in the State for 10 years while those entering after March 25, 1971, were to be deported.
Back in 1951, it had recorded 80 lakh citizens in the State. Since then, the process of identification of illegal immigrants in Assam has been debated and become a contentious issue in the State’s politics. A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the removal of “illegal voters” from the electoral rolls of Assam and the preparation of the NRC as required under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and its rules. A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’’ Union (AASU) in 1979. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985.
- The process of NRC update was taken up in Assam as per a Supreme Court order in 2013.
- It was done in order to wean out 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 verification involved house-to-house field verification, determination of authenticity of documents, family tree investigations in order to rule out bogus claims of parenthood and separate hearings for married women.
The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed between representatives of the Government of India and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15 August 1985.
- The accord brought an end to the Assam Agitation and paved the way for the leaders of the agitation to form a political party and form a government in the state of Assam soon after.
- As per the Accord, those Bangladeshis who came between 1966 and 1971 will be barred from voting for ten years. The Accord also mentions that the international borders will be sealed and all persons who crossed over from Bangladesh after 1971 are to be deported.
- Though the accord brought an end to the agitation, some of the key clauses are yet to be implemented, which has kept some of the issues festering.
- Clause 6: Constitutional, legislature and administrative safeguards.
- Clause 6: Protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people.
- Clause 7: Government renews commitment for economic development of Assam.
- Clause 7: Special emphasis on education and Science and Technology.
Why a separate National Register of Citizens?
- This is because of a history of migration.
- During British rule, Assam was merged with Bengal Presidency for administrative purpose.
- From 1826 to 1947, the British continuously brought migrant workers to Assam for cheap labour in tea plantations.
- Two major waves of migration came after British rule. First after Partition, from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
- Then in the aftermath of the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
- This eventually led to an agitation during 1979-85, led by the All Assam Students’ Union.
- It culminated in the 1985 Assam Accord, under which illegal migrants were to be identified and deported.
- Enquiries were initiated in 3,10,759 cases
- Only 10,015 persons declared illegal migrants.
- 1,481 illegal migrants physically expelled.
This exercise of compiling the NRC in the first place has sparked a debate around its social, political and economic consequences.
Social consequences of illegal migration
- Crisis of identity: The influx of immigrants created a crisis of identity among the indigenous Their cultural survival will be in jeopardy, their political control will be weakened and their employment opportunities will be undermined by such illegal migration. The recent Bodo-Muslim violence in the BTAD has its root on the issue of illegal migration.
- Environmental degradation: Large areas of forest land were encroached upon by the immigrants for settlement and cultivation. The state experienced declining percent of land area under forest from 39% in 1951-52 to about 30% now.
- Difficult to identify the illegal migrants: Due to the similar language spoken by illegal migrants from Bangladesh and the indigenous Bengali speaking Muslim of Assam, it becomes difficult to identify and deport the illegal migration from Assam soil.
- Community tension: The commission on integration and Cohesion found that tension usually exist with the presence of high levels of migration combine with other forms of social exclusion like poverty, poor housing etc.
- Increase financial burden: 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.
- Displacing native workers: 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.
- Decreases wage level with the increase of population: Illegal 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.
- Assam agitation: The failure of government to respond the issue of illegal migration led to the agitation by the Assamese under the leadership of All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) and All Assam Student’s Union (AASU). Assam witnessed governmental instability, sustained civil disobedience campaigns and worst cases of ethnic violence. Assam accord was the result of this agitation.
- Illegal voters: 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.
- Issue of terrorism: Pakistan’s ISI has been active in Bangladesh supporting militant movements in Assam (Lt Gen S K Sinha, 1998). It is alleged that among the illegal migrants there are also militants, who enter into Assam to carry out the terrorist activities.
Migration of outsiders into Assam has a long history, initially people of neighbouring states came to the state in search of work but illegal influx of Bangladeshi’s over decades has assumed political significance.
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