Who are the 19 lakh excluded from Assam NRC, and what next for them?

Headline : Who are the 19 lakh excluded from Assam NRC, and what next for them?

Details :

In News:

  • The recently published final list of people in updated National Register of Citizen (NRC) has stripped nearly 19 lakh people in the north-eastern state of Assam of their citizenship.

About: NRC

  • The NRC for a state is the list of Indian citizens of that state.
  • It was created in 1951 to determine who was born in Assam and is therefore Indian, and who might be a migrant from neighbouring Bangladesh.
  • It is a list of people who can prove that they came to Assam before 24 March 1971, a day before India’s neighbouring country Bangladesh declared independence from Pakistan.
  • Objective: to control unabated migration from Bangladesh.
  • The Register is meant to establish the credentials of a bona fide citizen as distinguished from a foreigner.
  • Assam is the country’s only state to create such a document.
  • The NRC has been updated for the first time.

Background of the NRC updation:

  • The NRC updating exercise started in 2013 under the Supreme court’s watch.
  • The process of NRC update in Assam differs from the rest of the country and is governed by Rule 4A and the corresponding Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
  • These rules were framed as per the cut-off date of the midnight of March 24, 1971, enshrined in the Assam Accord of 1985.
  • First draft of Assam NRC:
    • In accordance with the top court’s direction, the Registrar-General of India published the list on the night of 31-December-2017 to distinguish Indian citizens living in Assam from those who illegally entered the State.
    • Names of 1.9 crore people out of the 3.29 crore applicants were incorporated then.
  • Second draft:
    • In July 2018, a draft was published in which 2.89 crore residents were included as Indian citizens, while 40 lakh were left out.
    • Those who were left out were allowed to file claims for inclusion and citizens could object against anyone who they felt was wrongly included.
  • Excluded in additional list:
    • In June 2019, another 1 lakh, originally among the 2.89 crore included in that draft, were removed after subsequent verification.
  • Claims filed against exclusions:
    • As many as 36 lakh of those excluded filed claims against the exclusion, while four lakh residents did not apply.
  • Final NRC:
    • The latest NRC is the result of all those included and excluded.

What will happen to those 19 lakh people excluded from the NRC?

  • The excluded people will have to appeal against it at Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT), a quasi-judicial court and subsequently in the high court or Supreme Court.
  • The government has given 120 days time to appeal in the court.
  • Those excluded from NRC will have to prove that they or their ancestors were living in Assam on or before March 24, 1971.
  • Various other documents such as birth certificates and land records are admissible, as long as these were issued before the cutoff date.
  • However, if a person looses to prove his/her identity in Foreigners’ Tribunal as well as in higher courts, he or she will face a possible arrest and can be sent to a detention centre (However, the prospects sending a large number of people to detention centres is low).
  • If not deported or detained in a camp, such people would officially be entitled as non-citizens.

Foreigners Tribunal: Foreigners Tribunal (FT) was set up in Assam in 1964 through the Foreigners Tribunal Order 1964. The tribunals have been mandated with identifying the legal status of suspected foreigners in Assam.

Key Challenge:

  • The courts , limited in numbers, will be burdened and get exhaustive as the appeal period is short and cases are far too many which may further clog the process.

What makes deportation so uncertain?

  • For a country to be able to deport a mass of individuals to another country, the second country has to accept that they were its citizens who entered the first country illegally.
  • However, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam.
  • Besides, India has no treaty with Bangladesh that would facilitate their deportation.
  • Also, there have been no visible recent efforts by India to push the matter with Bangladesh.

India’s Policy for “stateless” persons:

  • India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons.
  • The only aspect which is clear is that “stateless” person will not have voting rights.
  • As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education.
  • In India, being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee.

Refugees in India:

  • India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan.
  • Among them, only the refugees from West Pakistan has the right to vote in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls.
  • For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits.
  • Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.

Road ahead: Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019

  • The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 provided for granting citizenship to immigrants of six non-Muslim faiths from three countries, including Bangladesh.
  • However, the Bill lapsed, but is expected to be reintroduced.
  • If the Bill passes Parliament, Hindus from Bangladesh would be eligible for citizenship, even if detected as illegal immigrants, while Muslims who illegally entered from Bangladesh would be treated as illegal immigrants.
  • The Bill has faced protests in Assam on the ground that it runs contrary to the NRC’s objective, which is to detect all illegal immigrants.
  • Whatever the fate of the Bill, a very long battle awaits those who are excluded from the NRC but claim to be Indian citizens.

About: Assam Accord, 1985

  • Assam witnessed a range of law and order problems and political turbulence driven by the anti-foreigners movement, in the early 1980s.
  • The Assam Accord (1985) was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed, signed by the Centre and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU).
  • Accordingly, those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship, including the right to vote while the entrants between 1961 and 1971were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship.
  • In addition to economic development, the Accord also had assured to safeguards the cultural, social, and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

Section : Polity & Governance

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