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Assam: Could Exclusion From NRC Could Lead to Cancellation of Aadhaar?

Sabrang India |
State government and AASU representatives agree that NRC and Aadhaar are separate, but it will be revoked for those who will be excluded from final NRC; the present NRC is not acceptable to them.
Assam: Could exclusion from NRC could lead to cancellation of Aadhaar?

Image: Pijush Hazarika | Twitter

The Assam state government is in no mood to give up on their demand for reverification of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). This was made clear after a meeting was held on March 21 on the direction of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma between state ministers and members of All Assam Students Union (AASU). But what was more concerning was their stand on Aadhaar.

Though they have decided to give Aadhaar card to people excluded from the NRC for now, they will be filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court again about reverification of the NRC. If the SC allows this, more names could be added and deleted from the NRC that was published in August 31, 2019. The people who will be excluded from this new list will have their Aadhaar revoked!

Those present at the meeting at the Assam Administrative Staff College included:

  • Atul Bora (Minister of Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary, Govt of Assam)

  • Ajanta Neog (Minister Finance & Social Welfare Govt of Assam)

  • Keshab Mahant (Minister Health & Family Welfare, Information Technology, Science and Technology, Government of Assam)

  • Pijush Hazarika (Minister for Water Resources; Parliamentary Affairs; Information,Public Relations; Printing & Stationery; & Spokesperson, Government of Assam)

  • Jogen Mohan (Cabinet Minister of the Government of Assam for Revenue & Disaster Management, Hills Area Development, Mines & Minerals)

  • Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharjya (Chief Advisor, AASU)

  • Dipankar Kumar Nath (President, AASU)

  • Dharmeshwar Das (Acting General Secretary, AASU)

  • Neeraj Barma (Principal Secretary, Home and Political Department)

  • Gyanendra Tripathi (Commissioner-Secretary, Assam Agreement Implementation Department)

  • Diganta Bara (Commissioner and Secretary, Home-Political Department)

  • Mrs. Violet Baruah, (Inspector General of Police - Border Branch)

Impact of NRC exclusion on Aadhaar

In the aftermath of the completion of the process of updating the NRC in Assam, over 19 lakh people found their names excluded from this list – their citizenship in limbo and lives in disarray. What’s worse was that this had a direct impact on their ability to get an Aadhaar card and avail entitlements and benefits under a variety of schemes. These include ration supply at subsidised rates, pensions for the elderly and widows, etc. In fact, today, over 26 lakh people remain deprived of Aadhaar due to their names being excluded from the list or being related to such people (many of them are children).

This was discussed at length at the meeting and following the meeting Atul Bora tweeted, “The decision was taken at today's meeting to provide support to the people involved in the NRC's claims and objections process, keeping in view the different issues that the government is facing in the field of various services.” But he clarified, “Aadhaar and citizenship are two completely different things.”

However, what was most shocking was the decision surrounding the impact on NRC on Aadhaar. According to Borah, “In addition, persons currently involved in the process of claiming and objecting to the Aadhaar will have their Aadhaar revoked if they are not recognized as Indian citizens in the final civil registry at a later stage.”

This means while these people will be granted Aadhaar for now, it can be cancelled later if their names do not make it into the NRC at a later date. The government of Assam and AASU have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the NRC published on August 31, 2019.

According to Dr. Bhattacharjya, “The final draft of NRC is not acceptable for us, because the result is not satisfying. A lot of Bangladeshi names were included. In a meeting in 2010 we have raised the issue that the Aadhaar card and NRC should be completely different in Assam.”

Another meeting is scheduled to take place on March 24 between members of the Assam Accord Implementation Committee.

Reverification of NRC

Shortly after the final NRC was published on August 31, 2019, Assam Public Works, an NGO that is at the center of the NRC case in the Supreme Court demanded a complete reverification of the list. But the apex court rejected the plea on July 23, 2019 saying, “We have also read and considered the response of Mr. Hazela, the learned Coordinator on this aspect of the matter and specifically, the stand taken by him in his report dated 18.7.2019, which is to the effect that in the course of consideration/adjudication of the claims, re-verification to the extent of 27% has already been done. In fact, in the said report, the learned Coordinator has mentioned district wise figures of such re-verification which has become an integral part of the process of consideration of the claims and objections on account of the procedure adopted. In that view of the matter, we do not consider it necessary to accede to the prayers for a further sample verification as prayed for on behalf of the Union of India and the State of Assam.”

But the government of Assam remained adamant on reverification and in September 2020, made a formal submission before the Assam State Assembly demanding 10-20 percent reverification.

On October 13, 2020, Hitesh Dev Sarma, who had previously replaced Prateek Hajela as Assam’s State Coordinator of the NRC, issued a directive to Deputy Commissioners and District Registrars of Citizen Registration (DRCR) for deleting ineligible persons from the final draft of NRC. The ineligible persons include persons belonging to categories such as Declared Foreigner (DF), Doubtful Voter (DV) and Pending cases before Foreigners Tribunals (PFT), along with the descendants of persons belonging to these categories.

This led to two contempt petitions against Sarma in the Supreme Court: one by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) which states that the directive issued by him for reverification of final draft of NRC contravenes the court’s previous orders, and another by All Assam Minorities Students Union (AAMSU). Both parties were represented by Kapil Sibal and Fuzail Ahmed Ayyubi. The petitions said that the October 13, 2020 directive for reverification issued by Hitesh Dev Sarma has caused delays in filing of appeals by excluded persons, leaving their identity in the country in much uncertainty. The petitioner stated that the unilateral directions amount to wilful disobedience of the Supreme Court’s orders passed on August 7, 2018, July 23, 2019 as well as judgment passed on August 13, 2019. The SC in January 2021 issued notice to Sarma in connection with the contempt petitions.

New petition for reverification

In May 2021, Assam’s State Coordinator of the NRC again moved Supreme Court demanding a reverification of the NRC published on August 31, 2019 saying that due to major irregularity many names of ineligible people had made it to the list.

In his intervention application, he also prays for the deletion of ineligible voters from the voters list and seeks updation of the 1951 NRC. The application states that there was absence of backend verification of electoral rolls and the process of Office and Field Verifications being used to check applications was unable to detect “Manipulated or manufactured secondary documents”. Here are the key allegations of discrepancies as stated in the application.

Eligible people excluded

The application also states that sample checks have revealed that out of the over 40 lakh people excluded from the draft NRC of 2018, over 3 lakh people did not apply for the claims and objections process. It was discovered that 50,695 of these people including 7,700 Original Inhabitants (OI) and 42,925 people from other states were eligible for inclusion.

Misuse of Original Inhabitant window

On the subject of OI the application further states that many people have misused the provision and therefore have been mistakenly included in the NRC. It further said that as many as 17,196 persons were included in the NRC even though the backend verification result of their documents was negative, because officers allowed them a chance to reverify their documents.

Allegations against Wipro

Allegations were also made against Wipro which was the System Integrator responsible for maintaining the NRC database. It said that till September 13 2019 Wipro was asked to add or delete names in the database by email, something that was illegal. The application gives an example of the discrepancy saying that while on August 31, 2019 the number of people excluded from the list was 19,06,657, it changed to 19,22,851 on September 14 2019!

Allegations against previous NRC Coordinator

Hitesh Dev Sarma took over from Prateek Hajela as NRC State Coordinator amidst the controversy that erupted shortly after the publication of the final NRC. He has now alleged that not only did Hajela not hand over the password of the official email ID, his computer was found to have been re-formatted and all previous data deleted.

Delay in issuing Rejection Slips

The NRC State Coordinator also submitted that “issues of substantive importance” had also come up during the preparation of rejection slips and thus led to delays. Rejection slips basically list the reason for rejection given in speaking orders by Disposing Officers as a part of the Claims and Objections Process. Over 19 lakh people had been excluded from the 2019 NRC and were required to undergo this process.

Prayers

According to LiveLaw, the NRC State Coordinator’s application makes two prayers:

- Pass appropriate directions for a complete, comprehensive and time-bound reverification of the draft NRC as well as the supplementary list of NRC under the provision of the Clause 4(3) of the Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National ldentity Cards) Rules 2003, where major irregularities have been highlighted in the body of the instant application herein above.

- Pass appropriate directions that the re-verification be done under the supervision of a monitoring committee in the respective districts and such committee may be preferably represented by the respective District Judge, District Magistrate & Superintendent of Police.

Now, given this let us examine in detail what the newly minter sub-committee is actually trying to accomplish.

Courtesy: Sabrang India

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