National Register of Citizens

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Exclusive:

The Supreme Court issued a notice to the centre and the Election Commission of India on a plea seeking that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) be updated to include Tripura. The final draft of the NRC in Assam was released, excluding four million residents of the state. This draft of the NRC is however not final and people can still appeal against the non-inclusion of their names in the NRC. Several religious and linguistic minority groups are also opposing the NRC as discriminatory and undemocratic. The purpose is to separate “illegal” immigrants from “legitimate” residents of Assam. The nodal agency in this regard is the Registrar General and Census Commissioner India.

National Register of Citizens, 1951 is a register prepared after the conduct of the Census of 1951 in respect of each village, showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding the number and names of persons staying therein. The NRC was published only once in 1951.

The issue of its update assumed importance as Assam witnessed large-scale illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan and, after 1971, from present-day Bangladesh. This led to the six-year-long Assam movement from 1979 to 1985, for deporting illegal migrants. The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led the movement that demanded the updating of the NRC and the deportation of all illegal migrants who had entered Assam after 1951. The movement culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. It set March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date for the deportation of illegal migrants. Since the cut-off date prescribed under articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution was July 19, 1949 – to give force to the new date, an amendment was made to the Citizenship Act, 1955, and a new section was introduced. It was made applicable only to Assam. There had been intermittent demands from AASU and other organizations in Assam for updating the NRC, an Assam based NGO filed a petition at the Supreme Court. In December 2014, a division bench of the apex court ordered that the NRC be updated in a time-bound manner. The NRC of 1951 and the Electoral Roll of 1971 (up to midnight of 24 March 1971) are together called Legacy Data. Persons and their descendants whose names appeared in these documents are certified as Indian citizens.

An updated NRC is likely to put an end to speculations about the actual number of illegal migrants in Assam in particular and the country in general. It will provide a verified dataset to carry out meaningful debates and implement calibrated policy measures. Publication of an updated NRC is expected to deter future migrants from Bangladesh from entering Assam illegally. The publication of the draft NRC has already created a perception that staying in Assam without valid documentation will attract detention/jail term and deportation. More importantly, illegal migrants may find it even more difficult to procure Indian identity documents and avail all the rights and benefits due to all Indian citizens. Inclusion of their names in the NRC will provide respite to all those Bengali speaking people in Assam who have been, hitherto, suspected as being Bangladeshis.

To put an end to the speculations and disagreements, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah has announced that before NRC, a Citizenship Amendment Bill will be passed which will include refugees, irrespective of religion, as the citizens of India and distinguish them from illegal immigrants. Such refugees shall be the responsibility of the whole country and not just Assam.

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