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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Assam BJP could pitch legislative route on NRC to protect ‘genuine citizens’

Two senior BJP state leaders said the party was committed to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which promises citizenship to non-Muslim refugees, while a third said the party was looking at bringing in a new law or amending an existing one.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2019 05:38 IST
Utpal Parashar and Sadiq Naqvi
Utpal Parashar and Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Khaibar Ali (43) along with his father Jahur Ali (73) and mother Sarifa Bebi (54) year old, check the names in the recently published final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), at Gorbhetar .
Khaibar Ali (43) along with his father Jahur Ali (73) and mother Sarifa Bebi (54) year old, check the names in the recently published final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), at Gorbhetar . (HT FILE)
         

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Assam hinted on Sunday that it might consider legislative measures to safeguard the interests of “genuine citizens” excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) even as the state government reiterated that it would provide help to the 1.9 million people excluded by the exercise.

Two senior BJP state leaders said the party was committed to the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which promises citizenship to non-Muslim refugees, while a third said the party was looking at bringing in a new law or amending an existing one.

“We will take whatever step is needed to ensure the rights of genuine Indians are protected and illegal immigrants get detected. It might mean bringing a new law, amending existing legislation or some other means through Parliament or the state assembly,” said Ranjeet Dass, state BJP president.

This came a day after senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma rejected the NRC and said that the government was committed to bringing the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the next session of Parliament. A previous version of the bill lapsed after being stalled in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling National Democratic Alliance doesn’t command a majority.

WATCH| Day after final Assam NRC list, Centre says excluded people ‘not state-less’

 

But this time may be different, indicated BJP state spokesperson Roopam Goswami. “We couldn’t bring the legislation last time as we didn’t have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But by November, we should have enough members in the Rajya Sabha to bring the bill again and get it passed,” he added.

A third senior leader, Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy, said, “We will bring the bill. It is a matter of time.”

Sarma has said Hindu migrants should not be left out of the list. “A small portion of Hindu migrants have been left out of the list. They had their own refugee certificates, but that was not taken into account. Anyway, the BJP is committed to passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the next Parliament session,” he told NDTV in an interview.

The NRC published on Saturday was driven by a four-decade-long agitation in Assam against illegal immigrants by local communities, which claimed that foreigners were threatening their language and culture.

To prove one’s citizenship, a person had to prove she or her ancestors were in Assam before March 25, 1971 – the day a bloody war of liberation began in neighbouring Bangladesh, driving tens of thousands of refugees into India.

But many local groups and political parties rejected the final figure of 1.9 million, saying it was too low. Earlier provisional lists of the NRC, published in July 2018 and June 2019, had left out 4.1 million people.

Since the final NRC list was published at 10am on Saturday, the situation in the state has been peaceful, said additional director general of police (law and order) Mukesh Agarwal. “But the next 48 hours are crucial for it to settle down,” he said. Many people, especially in the under-developed hinterlands, checked their NRC status only on Sunday.

Many activists pointed out that considerable sections of the Bengali-speaking Hindu population, which is considered a core vote base of the BJP, have found themselves out of the NRC. Many of these communities fled violence and riots in the then East Pakistan.

“Our families barely escaped the violence and fled to India. So many years later, how can we be told we are not Indian?” asked 32-year-old Hari Arja after finding him and his family excluded from the NRC.

Senior cabinet minister and government spokesperson Chandra Mohan Patowary said the state government would increase the number of foreigner tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies that adjudicate whether someone is an illegal immigrant. Those left out of the NRC can appeal their case to a tribunal within 120 days, and then, higher courts.

“People out of the NRC have a fair option of approaching the foreigners tribunals. But if we see FTs are not able to solve the problem, we will see what more we can do,” he said adding it seemed that many genuine Indian citizens may have been left out. “We will make sure no genuine Indian is out of the NRC.”

He also complained that the NRC authorities were not sharing data with the government.

“We got details that over 1.9 million people have been excluded only after the final list was published even though we had filed an affidavit requesting for this information,” Patowary said adding how the NRC state coordination is yet to provide information officially on details of the inclusion and exclusion. “We will have more clarity once the details of the final NRC list are scrutinised,” he said – hinting that the government was in the process of compiling data from the districts.

Patowary also said the CAB would definitely help a section of those out of the NRC but clarified that the central government was in charge of that legislation. Days before the NRC was published, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had hinted at “legislative measures” to address problems in the NRC.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January 2019 and made eligible for citizenship Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi and Buddhist migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But it triggered widespread protests in northeastern states, especially Assam, and lapsed with the general elections this summer.

Abhijit Sarma, president of the Assam Public Works (APW), a Guwahati-based NGO whose petition to the Supreme Court in 2009 was the basis for the apex court ordering an update of the NRC in Assam, said: “Any speculation on the Citizenship Amendment Bill is premature. We first demand a 100% re-verification of the NRC.”

On Sunday, NRC authorities admitted that the number of applicants published at the final stage was 36,277 more than what was published at the draft stage in July 2018.

On condition of anonymity, a senior NRC official attributed the error to digitization problems but said that the error was spotted before the final list was out on Saturday. Redressal for any further such errors would be dependent on the Supreme Court, he added.

First Published: Sep 02, 2019 05:15 IST

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