Another NRC in Assam with rest of India: Amit Shah
Union home minister Amit Shah said on Wednesday that a National Register of Citizens (NRC) will be created for all regions in India, expanding an exercise that was recently carried out in Assam and led to the identification of 1.9 million people who now face the risk of being labelled illegal immigrants.
Shah also said that the NRC exercise in Assam was carried out after a Supreme Court order and when the pan-India process is conducted, the northeastern state would be covered afresh.
The home minister’s statement came in response to a question by a Rajya Sabha member, and represents the first confirmation of a plan that has previously been spoken about by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders during campaign speeches.
“The process of NRC will be carried out across the country. No one irrespective of their religion should be worried as it’s just a process to get everyone under the NRC,” Shah said.
On August 31, the NRC was published in Assam after a decades-long anti-foreigner campaign. The process, aimed at identifying and weeding out illegal immigrants, began under the Supreme Court’s oversight in 2015 and cost approximately ₹1,300 crore. The final list left out 1.9 million from the 32.9 million applicants.
The minister added that people from all religions who were Indian citizens would be included and there was no provision to leave anyone out on the basis of religion. “There is no question of any discrimination on the basis of religion. NRC is a different process and the Citizenship Amendment Bill is different,” he said, referring to a separate law that seeks to give citizenship to minorities from neighbouring Muslim-majority nations.
The government plans to amend the Citizenship Act in the Winter Session of Parliament.
“Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Parsi refugees should get citizenship. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is needed so that these refugees who are being discriminated on basis of religion in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, get Indian citizenship,” Shah said.
The declaration came at a time when the BJP-ruled government in Assam has opposed NRC, alleging that the exercise was carried out without any involvement of the administration and that the final list potentially includes names of people who are not eligible.
“The Assam government has not accepted the NRC. The Government of Assam and the BJP have requested the home minister to reject the NRC,” Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said at a press conference in Guwahati.
Sarma said the state favoured one national NRC with one cut-off year for the entire country. “If the cut-off year is 1971, then it should be the same for all states... We are not asking to scrap the Assam Accord,” he added.
Sarma also hit out at NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela. “The way Hajela ran the show under a different ecosystem, it has created a multiple layer of questions. As a public representative, we are unable to answer them now,” Sarma said.
The National Register of Citizens was first drawn up in 1951, the year when the first post-Independence census was carried out. Except Assam, NRC has not been created in any other part of the country.
Shah and several other BJP leaders have said the register will be updated for the country, drawing angry reactions from opposition party leaders who said the exercise is meant to disenfranchise people from minority communities.
Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said she will not allow such a citizens’ register in the state. “There are few people who are trying to create disturbances in West Bengal in the name of implementation of the NRC. I want to make it very clear, we will never allow NRC in Bengal,” she said.
Banerjee said NRC in Assam was part of the Assam Accord signed during the tenure of late former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and that the exercise can never be implemented across the country.
Before talking about implementing NRC in West Bengal, the BJP should answer why 1.4 million Hindus and Bengalis were omitted from the final NRC list in Assam, she added.
In the NRC process that was carried out in Assam, applicants had to prove their lineage to any person who was in the 1951 NRC – or show that they or their family members were legal residents prior to March 24, 1971.
Shortly after the NRC was published on August 31, the government announced plans to set up 400 tribunals to accept appeals by people left out from the list. The deadline for filing appeals was extended from the initially set 60 days to 120 days from August 31.
The final list drew criticism from activists as well as politicians, who said the four-year application and vetting process had led to several discrepancies such as cases when one family member was excluded while others made it to the list. Similarly, some prominent instances of exclusions were of war veterans.