Assam foreigners’ tribunal says NRC is final

Published on Sep 21, 2021 04:40 PM IST

The NRC was updated on the basis of the Assam Accord of 1985, which was signed after a six-year-long agitation against undocumented immigrants. The process took four years to complete under the supervision of the Supreme Court

Bodo women check their names in the final list of NRC at a Seva Kendra in Baska district of Assam. (HT archive)
Bodo women check their names in the final list of NRC at a Seva Kendra in Baska district of Assam. (HT archive)
ByBiswa Kalyan Purkayastha

A foreigners’ tribunal in Assam’s Karimganj district has called the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) final even as it is yet to be notified and declared a resident of the area an Indian national citing his inclusion in the document. Bikram Singha, the resident, was declared a doubtful voter whose citizenship was under suspicion after the state’s border police registered a case against him in 2008. The tribunal on September 10 declared him an Indian citizen based on the appearance of his name in the updated NRC published in 2019.

“Preparation of NRC for Assam was directed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in a time-bound manner and fixed a time schedule whose last step was mentioned as Finalization of Final updated NRC. Final NRC In Assam has been published as per direction and monitoring of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, so there should not be any doubt about finality or legality of NRC for Assam...,” said Sishir Dey, a member of the tribunal.

“..Notification for preparation of NRC in Assam was issued by Register General of India. Final NRC, (i.e. Supplementary List of NRC together with Draft NRC) has been published on 31.08.2019 which is available online on the official website of NRC Assam wherein also it’s referred and mentioned as ‘Final NRC’. This legal position is still in force. The National Identity Cards have yet to be issued to the Citizens whose names have been included in Final NRC. But there is no doubt that this NRC Assam published in 2019 is nothing but Final NRC...”

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The NRC was updated on the basis of the Assam Accord of 1985, which was signed after a six-year-long agitation against undocumented immigrants. The process took four years to complete under the supervision of the Supreme Court, which ordered revision of the 1951 list. The final list announced on August 31, 2019, excluded over 1.9 million applicants. As many as 33 million people applied to be included on the list that identifies Indian citizens.

Singha, a resident of Jamirala village in Karimganj district, was earlier declared a doubtful voter by the tribunal on the basis of an ex-parte judgement after he failed to appear before it. He remained untracked for a while. Singha later appeared before the tribunal delaying its order by almost two months. Dey heard his case on September 1. But Singha’s lawyer could not produce adequate documents which could establish his family was living in India prior to 1966, the year when Citizenship Act was first amended.

Singha’s name was included on the voter list in 1997. His other documents, including a land deed of 1968, showed his father and grandfather lived in Jamirala village before 1968. His father served as an Indian Air Force employee after 1972. But the documents could not help him to prove his citizenship in the tribunal. No document could establish the fact that they were residents in Assam prior to 1966.

Singha’s lawyer argued as his name appeared in the final NRC in August 2019, he should be considered as Indian citizen. She referred to the White Paper on Foreigners’ Issue published by Assam’s home and political department in October 2012 and said it says anyone born between January 26, 1950, and July 1, 1987, can be considered an Indian citizen by birth irrespective of the nationality of parents.

Dey cited Section 6A and Section 3 of the Citizenship Act and added it is clear that Section 6A deals with persons who came to Assam from a specified territory. “Their children are not covered by the provisions of section 6A but are covered within the ambit of section 3 of the Citizenship Act 1955. Thus Section 3 of the Citizenship Act is applicable in Assam as the rest of India unless and until it’s repealed, amended or struck down. Nothing of these has happened yet.”

The Assam government on September 4 directed the foreigners’ tribunals to refrain from passing consequential orders and stick to “opinion” while passing judgement on a person’s nationality.

Soumen Choudhary, a lawyer, called the tribunal’s verdict in Singha’s case a welcome judgement. “The evidence from...(Singha)’s side has been overwhelming. The NRC part can be a trendsetter if confirmed by the high court.”

Kamal Chakraborty, a social activist who helped many doubtful voters to fight their cases, called for the need for a more humane approach while dealing with such matters. “Many genuine Indian citizens are facing allegations of not being Indian just because courts delay their hearings. At one point, I started believing that foreigners’ tribunal courts have no use because they do not have the courage to pass a judgement. But this judgement has changed my opinion. This will help many others to fight their cases.”

Those left out of the final NRC were assured that they would not be declared foreigners and have the option of filing appeals. But they have not been issued rejection slips, which would enable them to file appeals. The NRC is yet to be notified by the Registrar General of India. Several applications seeking re-verification of the list are pending in the Supreme Court.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has argued that 1.9 million people excluded was much lower than the actual number of undocumented immigrants in the state. It insisted that nearly 200,000 genuine Indians were left out.

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