New Delhi: With Assembly elections in Assam about six months away, the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) is in the headlines again. Close to 10,000 names are expected to be deleted from the final NRC in the state, as many “ineligible persons” and their descendants were included in the list, according to a directive issued by its state coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma and officials in the know about the decision.
Sarma wrote to all the 33 Deputy Commissioners and District Registrar of Citizen Registration (DRCR) on Tuesday, October 13, directing them to issue orders for the deletion of such names. "...as per the reports received from your end through Webform, some names of ineligible persons belonging to the categories of DF (declared foreigners)/DV (''D'' voters)/PFT (pending in Foreigners Tribunals) along with their descendants have found entry to the NRC,” he said.
Sarma directed district officials to issue orders for deletion of such names from the NRC as per Clause 4(6) of the Schedule under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 after “specifically ascertaining the identity of the person”.
Sarma pointed out that authorities concerned can verify and include or exclude any name at any time before the publication of the final NRC. Though the final NRC for Assam was made public in August last year, it is yet to be notified by the Registrar General of India, leaving the controversial document without any official validity. At the time, all stakeholders, even the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, were up in arms about the composition of the list.
“You are, therefore, requested to submit the list of such persons who are not eligible for having their names in the NRC along with speaking order justifying reasons for each cases for necessary action for deletion of such names,” Sarma said in the letter. A software application for submission of the reviewed results of such persons along with mechanism for uploading of the scanned freshly written speaking orders will be rolled out shortly, he added.
“The verification would mandatorily require the correct identity of the person so that no ambiguity arises in future as far as identification of the person is concerned,” the letter to the districts said.
While the letter did not mention how many people could end up being excluded, persons in the know told PTI that around 10,000 people have been identified whose names were “wrongly included” in the final NRC and will now be excluded. “This is a mix of all communities. The figure looks a bit big because it includes the descendants of the persons from the three categories mentioned in the letter,” a source told the news agency.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Sarma confirmed that the process for deletion was underway. “Yes, we have started the process to delete names from the NRC of ‘declared foreigners’, ‘doubtful voters’, those who have cases pending at FTs and their descendants. List of names are still coming in from several districts and it would not be fair to comment on the total number of such erroneous inclusions into the NRC right now. Let us get the complete lists,” he was quoted saying.
The Express report mentions that a grouse that observers have with the process is the lack of a central and synchronised real-time database which can be updated to mark out a “foreigner” to the NRC officials.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Upamanyu Hazarika told The Telegraph that the order’s timing was surprising. “Discrepancies and inclusion of a large number of foreigners in the NRC has been a primary public concern in Assam and is viewed as a failure of the present government as their leadership has been more concerned with exclusion of Hindu Bangladeshis rather than inclusion of Muslim infiltrators,” he said. Hazarika added that with the Assembly Elections in Assam to take place in April or May next year, the government wants to weigh up the NRC-sentiment on the ground as this was the issue which led the BJP to power in the state.
On Friday, the Congress on Friday alleged that Sarma’s directive amounts to contempt of court as the Supreme Court's permission was not taken.
Leader of the opposition in the state assembly, Debabrata Saikia, said the desire of the people of Assam was fulfilled when the NRC was updated under the apex court's supervision and both the Centre and the state government share responsibility for it.
“Such a directive is tantamount to contempt of the Supreme Court because the SCNRC has not taken the court's leave to issue the directive,” the Congress leader said. The apex court has not passed any order regarding inclusion or omission of names in the final NRC, he added.
The final NRC was released on August 31 last year, excluding the names of 19,06,657 persons. A total of 3,11,21,004 names were included out of 3,30,27,661 applicants. After the publication of the final NRC, almost all stakeholders and political parties criticised it as a faulty document, alleging exclusion of indigenous people and the inclusion of illegal immigrants.
On August 31 this year, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said in the Assembly that the Assam government had submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court for re-verification of 20% names in districts bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the rest.
With inputs from PTI