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ASSAM NRC: As State Coordinator bypasses rules to finalize citizenship register, over one lakh persons stare at an uncertain future

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]VER one lakh persons, initially included in the final draft of the July 2018 National Register of Citizens (NRC), have been found to be ineligible for inclusion in the yet to be published final NRC, according to figures published by the NRC State Coordinator on June 26, 2019. It remains to be seen how many such names have now been excluded on the basis of objections filed against them in the final draft and how many of these are on account of the suo moto verification by NRC officials and for what reasons. The data is scarce, mostly submitted to the Supreme Court by the State Coordinator in a sealed cover.

With the publication of the additional exclusion list, under paragraph 5 of the schedule to the Citizenship Rules, 2003, (2003 rules) more questions are bound to come to the fore. It is also interesting that a list containing names of more than one lakh people who were so far included in the National Register would come to be published about a month before the deadline for final publication of the NRC in Assam, providing a period of just about one month for the filing of claims, a hearing and the final decision by the authorities. The Supreme Court has stipulated that the entire exercise must be concluded and the final list published by July 31, 2019.

The additional exclusion list was published under the 2003 rules. This will now be followed by a process of filing claims under paragraph 6 of the 2003 rules. The advertisement for publication of the additional exclusion list on June 26, 2019, was published by the State Coordinator on June 20. The advertisement said that after the publication of the list, those excluded would be informed through Letters of Intimation, to be posted to their addresses, and would thereafter be required to file their claims along with all necessary documents before July 11, 2019. Those claims would then be processed before the final publication of the NRC on July 31, 2019. This translates into less than 15 days’ time for the excluded individuals, mostly illiterate and underprivileged, to not only file their claims but also to arrange for any additional documents in support of their claims and to take legal advice on the same. Since such persons will be informed through the postal service, if we take into account the transit time as well, the time these individuals have to fill their claims reduced even further.



Note that the schedule to the 2003 Rules, under clause (1) of paragraph 6, itself provides a minimum period of 30 days, from the date of publication of the additional list, for filing claims. It now appears that that in order to hurriedly meet the Supreme Court stipulated deadline for publication of the final list, the State Coordinator has chosen not to follow the prescribed law by drastically shortening the time period to conclude the entire verification and hearing process, including issuing notice after the receipt of claims, allowing the filing of documents and granting a reasonable opportunity of hearing to the claimants as provided in clause (3) of the schedule to paragraph 6 of the 2003 Rules.

These stipulations as contained in the 2003 Rules, that were scrupulously followed during the claims and objections phase after the publication of the final draft last year are now being sought to be bypassed in order to merely comply with the deadline for final publication.

6. Claims and objection— (1) Any person may—

(a) whose names do not appear in the draft National Register of Indian Citizens published under paragraph 2 or in the additional list published under paragraph 4,file his claim, along with necessary documents in support of thereof, or

(b) Object to inclusion of any name in the draft National Register of Indian Citizens published under paragraph 2 or in the additional list published under paragraph 4,

within a period of thirty days from the date of such publication, before the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration.

(2) The Local Registrar of Citizen Registration shall maintain the list of claims received under clause (a) of sub-paragraph (1) and the objections received under clause of sub-paragraph (1) in separate registers in chronological order.

(3) The Local Registrar of Citizen Registration shall, give a notice to every person, who has filed his claim or objection under sub-paragraph (1) to file documents, if any, in support of his claim of objection, and after giving the reasonable opportunity of hearing to the applicant or objector, dispose of the claim or, as the case may be, the objection.


Paragraph 6 of the Schedule to Rule 4A of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003

It is perhaps the same concern with which the Chief Justice of India, who heads the dedicated NRC bench, while interacting with the State Coordinator during the course of a hearing, had cautioned him against cutting corners merely to meet the deadline. The court had communicated its concerns in light of the apprehensions that certain officials involved in the NRC work were disposing of the claims in an unfair manner merely to meet the court-stipulated target date. The court had reminded the NRC coordinator that it was imperative to ensure that in the process of meeting the deadline, no unfairness crept in, and that all acts involved in the registration procedure were done in accordance with the law.

The State Coordinator “shall ensure that the hearing of the claims and objections, which are currently going on, are complied with strictly in accordance with law by the concerned officers and authorities who are considering such claims and objections, and … the State Coordinator will also ensure that all affected parties get a fair opportunity of hearing and to produce relevant documents” is what the court had recorded in its order dated May 30, 2019.



Not granting adequate time for filing of claims at a stage when the publication of final NRC is barely a month away, is not only contrary to what has been already provided by law and to the express observations of the court but is also devoid of any rationale behind the hurried manner in which the office of the State Coordinator is seeking to dispose of the cases of more than one lakh people who now find themselves excluded from the NRC.

While a period of 60 days after the finalization of the Standard Operating Procedure for the disposal of claims and objections was granted to those who were not included in the final draft published in July last year, the present exercise of granting barely 10-15 days’ time for filing claims fails to justify its need and is likely to lead to a number of persons either hurriedly filing wrong documents or failing to file their claims at all within the stipulated time. Though this is merely one glaring aspect related to the publication of the additional exclusion list and the procedure to follow thereafter, it remains the most crucial as well.

This is the first chance after their exclusion that the one lakh persons, who found themselves in the 2018 draft, will have of proving their claim to citizenship before the final NRC is published on July 31, 2019. It will also be their last.


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