The NRC is at odds with the citizenship Act

In a rush to complete the NRC and identify illegal foreigners, we’ve consciously chosen a procedure that will transform legal citizens of India into illegal immigrants. Isn’t this a matter of deep concern?
Activists of the Hindu Yuva Chattra Parishad burn copies of NRC list, Guwahati, August 31, 2019(PTI)
Activists of the Hindu Yuva Chattra Parishad burn copies of NRC list, Guwahati, August 31, 2019(PTI)
Published on Sep 07, 2019 06:32 PM IST
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I wonder if you’re aware that the basis on which the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has been created in Assam is in deliberate and blatant defiance of the law of this country, as legislated by an Act of Parliament? What’s worse is this seems to have happened with the permission and protection of the Supreme Court. And, yes, I’ve chosen provocative adjectives because I want to attract your attention and stimulate your concern. Do please read on.

The NRC has been drawn up on the grounds that people who have been present in Assam before midnight of March 24, 1971, (and, presumably, this refers to immigrants) are deemed to be citizens of India. That’s the critical cut-off date. However, the Citizenship Act of 1955 establishes a very different position. Clause 3 (1) (a) states that “every person born in India on or after the 26th day of January 1950, but before the 1st day of July 1987, shall be a citizen of India by birth.”

The difference is crucial. Under the Citizenship Act, anyone born in India up to June 30, 1987, is a citizen of the country. The NRC, in contrast, draws the cut-off point 16 years earlier. It does not recognise the citizenship of those born in India between March 25, 1971, and June 30, 1987. As Prateek Hajela, the NRC coordinator says in his report of July 10, 2019, to the Supreme Court: “Citizenship purely by birth and not by descendance is not eligible for inclusion in NRC.” This is on the grounds that one parent of such persons could be a “doubtful voter”, a “declared foreigner” or someone “whose claim for citizenship is pending before a Foreigner’s Tribunal”.

However, these grounds are not legitimate exceptions for the application of Clause 3 (1) (a). It clearly and explicitly says “every person born in India” and it is not concerned with either the parents or their citizenship status. In fact, the Citizenship Act is very specific about the categories of people who are excluded from citizenship by birth. This is spelled out in Clause 3 (2) (a) and (b) and is restricted to children of accredited diplomats, because their parents have “immunity from suits and legal process”, and children of enemy aliens born in a part of the country occupied at that time.

Yet, the bizarre part is the Supreme Court not only permitted Hajela to carry on with his arbitrary restriction of citizenship but, even, protected his doing so. In its order of August 13, 2019, the Court ruled that since the entire NRC exercise has been done with midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off “the same cannot be now ordered to be re-opened by initiation of a fresh exercise … on the strength of the provisions of Section 3 (1) (a) of the Act.” Yet, four days earlier, the Court gave a categoric assurance that people born in India up to June 30, 1987, would not be excluded. However, in its order this was forgotten. Consequently, the Supreme Court has prioritised administrative convenience over fealty to the law and the rights of the people affected.

So, in a rush to complete the NRC and identify illegal foreigners, we’ve consciously chosen a procedure that will transform legal citizens of India into illegal immigrants. Isn’t this a matter of deep concern? The cavalier way it was addressed by the Supreme Court in its August 13 order is not just inadequate, but distressing.

What makes the situation even more inexplicable is the Press and the Opposition are either unaware of this or unperturbed by it. For them, truly, ignorance is bliss. And now can you see why I’m so keen to attract your attention and provoke a response? On top of everything else to do with the NRC which is worrying and questionable, this is, surely, of a different order altogether? If there’s no redress it could shatter our belief in the rule of law.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal
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Tuesday, November 30, 2021