National Register of Citizens : Journey so Far - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

National Register of Citizens : Journey so Far - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

Why in News?

The much-awaited updated Final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was released on last month, excluding names of over 19 lakh applicants.


More than 19 lakh people in Assam have been excluded from the final version of the NRC in Assam. A total of 3.29 crore people had applied for the NRC, of which 3.11 crore made it to the final list. It is till date the biggest drive to verify citizenship in India. It is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants who entered and settled in Assam, primarily from Bangladesh, after March 25, 1971 and deport them to their native country. As per orders of the Supreme Court, the final draft of Assam's NRC was published on July 30, 2018. The final list excluded the names of around 40 lakh people.

When the National Register of Citizens (NRC) authorities in Assam published a consolidated family wise list of applicants recently, they appended a note that those included may also be excluded later, and that no position in the list is permanent. As of now, the NRC has included 3.11 crore applicants as citizens, and excluded 19 lakh.

Any person who is not satisfied with the outcome of the NRC can file appeal before the Foreigners' Tribunals (FTs) within 120 days. The Assam government has earlier said those left out of the NRC will not be detained under any circumstances until the Foreigners Tribunals declare them as foreigners. If no appeal is filed in 120 days, the Deputy Commissioner of that district will make a “reference” to the Tribunal.

In case someone is unhappy with the decision of the FTs, he/she can also approach the Guwahati High Court and even the Supreme Court. Therefore, the state government has announced that those excluded will get legal aid through the District Legal Services Authorities.

Meanwhile, those who are declared as illegal migrants by the FTs, will be taken to detention camps and locked therein until their deportation to their native country.

NRC and Assam

The demands to update the NRC of 1951 were first raised by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Assam Gana Parishad more than three decades ago. The organisations had submitted a memorandum to the Centre on January 18, 1980, two months after launching the anti-illegal foreigners Assam Movement.

The publication of the initial NRC list is the outcome of a long standing demand of the Assamese people to detect and deport illegal Bangladeshi migrants from their state. Census data shows sharp contrast in the percentage of Assamese and Bengali speakers in recent times.

  • In 1991 there were 57.8 per cent Assamese speakers and 21.6 per cent Bengali speakers. The 2011 Census puts the number of Assamese speakers at 1.5 crore or 48.3 per cent and that of Bengali speakers at 90 lakh or 28.9 per cent.
  • The rise in Bengalis speakers is understood to reflect corresponding increase in the population of Muslims, who migrated from Bangladesh in 1971 and ftaer.

National Rgeister fo Ciitzens

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the register containing names of genuine Indian Citizens. The first NRC was based on the Census of 1951.

The eligibility of NRC to be if,

  • People whose names appear on the 1951 NRC.
  • People and descendants of those whose names appear on any voter list prepared in Assam before the midnight of March 24, 1971.
  • People who came from Bangladesh between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971, registered themselves with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office and were declared by the Foreigner Tribunal (FT) as Indian citizens.
  • Indian citizens, including their descendants, who moved to Assam after March 24, 1971 (they need to furnish proof of residence in another part of the country as on March 24, 1971).

The NRC is now being updated to include the names of those persons (or their descendants) who appear in the NRC, 1951, or in any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March, 1971 or in any one of the other admissible documents issued up to midnight of 24th March, 1971, which would prove their presence in Assam or in any part of India on or before 24th March, 1971.

All the names appearing in the NRC, 1951, or any of the Electoral Rolls up to the midnight of 24th March 1971 together are called Legacy Data. Thus, there will be two requirements for inclusion ni updated NRC –

  1. Existence of a person’s name in the pre-1971 period &
  2. Proving linkage with that person.

Under what circumstances can an included person’s name be deleted?

  • Any fact of misrepresentation of particulars/documents discovered by the authorities;
  • Discovery of a person being a Declared Foreigner (or a migrant of 1966-71 who is unregistered with a Foreigners Regional Registration Office [FRRO]); a person with a case pending at a FTs, or a person being a D (Doubtful) voter or a descendant of such a person;
  • Receipt of an opinion by any FTs declaring a person as a foreigner.

D-Voter (Declared Foreigner)

D-Voter is a category introduced in Assam in 1997 to mark people unable to prove their citizenship during verification. A Declared Foreigner is one identified as such by one of the 100 Foreigners Tribunals (FTs), which are quasi-judicial bodies that opine whether or not a person is a foreigner within the meaning of the Foreigners Act, 1946.

Under Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, people who entered Assam between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 need to register with an FRRO. They would have all rights of a citizen except the right to vote, which would be granted after 10 years. In the NRC note, those who entered Assam within this 1966-71 window but did not register themselves, too, are liable to be excluded.

Wrongful Exclusion and Inclusion

There have been allegations of wrongful exclusion and inclusion on grounds of deficiencies in the NRC methodology. FTs, set up to adjudicate citizenship disputes in Assam, need strict judicial supervision and must be freed from government control. Unfortunately, FT in Assam have been working in the most partisan manner. Gauhati High Court, in the latest order of its suo motu proceedings — in response to an email dated April 23, 2018, by the member-in-charge of Morigaon FT to Assam Government — has quashed FT’s proceedings of Morigaon in 57 cases, and, ordered these cases to be heard afresh due to several irregularities was found in cases dealt with by the FTs. The court was shocked at some of the details of the 282 cases dealt with by the FT: 17 persons on a note sheet were declared Indian citizens, but the order declared them foreigner; in 11 cases, judgment was not found on record; in 32 cases, people were earlier ex-parte declared foreigners but were eventually found to be Indians, though the earlier court orders were not vacated; in five cases, dual judgments were discovered and, in two cases, proceedings were to be initiated against Rabindra Chandra and Pachar Ali, but a different pair — Rahima Khatun and Anwara Khatun, who were not in any way related to the proceedings — was declared as foreigners.

To ensure that genuine Indian citizens are not deprived of their citizenship, the Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals (IMDT) Act 1983 had provided that the prosecution shall prove that the accused is not an Indian citizen. Abandoning all known principles of determining constitutionality of the law, the apex court, just on the basis of the burden of proof being on the prosecution, struck down as unconstitutional.

Due to this judgment of the SC, the heavy burden of proving citizenship is now on the citizens — they have to prove it on the basis of pre-1971 legacy and linkage documents. The law completely ignores the illiterate and destitute’s daily struggle for livelihood — they cannot possibly be meticulously keeping documents, particularly when most of them have had their homes ravaged by floods five to seven times on an average.

The burden of proof under our legal system is on the person who makes an assertion. Since criminal law is a state instrument, it is always on the prosecution: It is the prosecution’s duty to prove its allegations beyond any doubt. If there is the slightest doubt in the prosecution story, the benefit is always given to the accused. Section 9 of Foreigners’ Act has put the burden of proof on the alleged foreigner.

The Supreme Court has yet to make its observation and issue a directive on the final NRC list as well as the Standard Operating Procedure to be followed for legal remedies of the excluded applicants. The Foreigners (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019, notified by the Union government, describes the procedure to be followed in respect of appeals to be filed by those excluded from the NRC list.

Foreigners’ Tribunals

Foreigners’ Tribunals were established under The Foreigners’ Act,1946, that is, a pre-Constitution and colonial legislation that was meant to deal with foreigners rather than citizens. Foreigners’ Tribunals technically quasi-judicial bodies. The working of these tribunals has been approved by the Supreme Court. The Indian Constitution was amended in 1976 to insert the provision about tribunals under Article 323 A & 323 B. It talks of administrative and other specialised tribunals. However, the Constitution doesn’t mention any tribunal to pronounce on the citizenship of people. By 1979, we had 10 such tribunals, which rose to 64 in 2015. Today, we have some 100, with another 200 being established now.

Issues and Challenges with NRC

Several flaws have been identified in this process, from the lack of legal aid to exporter orders declaring people foreigners without even a trial. Tribunal members are pressured to declare the maximum number of foreigners rather than clear people of the charge. In anticipation of a fresh rush of cases after the final list, 1,000 more tribunals are being set up across the state. Neither the state nor the Centre has clarified what happens to those who lose their cases in the FTs, whether they will be detained, deported or allowed to stay on without the rights and privileges of citizenship.

The real challenge is before FTs where extensive documentation is required. Getting certified copies of documents from appropriate authorities is the first big hurdle. However, NRC excluded, including army veterans, government employees, families of former Presidents and Assam’s only woman Chief Minister. All those left out of the draft were told to make fresh claims to citizenship.

  • The Assam National Register Citizens is being seen as a stepping stone to more general NRC for the entire country. There are concerns and fears that such an NRC could end up targeting minorities in the country.
  • There are also concerns the NRC for Assam may end up incorrectly including or excluding people from the list - the concerns came into focus after the publication of the draft NRC list that excluded more than 40 lakh people.
  • Till March 2019, as many as 1.17 lakh people had been declared foreigners, of which 63,959 were declared as such ex-parte.

Pushing lakhs of individuals into the drudgery of appeals to FTs and courts, putting them in detention centres notorious for degrading conditions, and relegating them to secondary citizenship or statelessness are bound to bring extreme suffering to the people, the majority of whom are already living a marginalised existence. The issue was raised in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session, with Opposition leaders protesting against the move. An exercise like the NRC, with its fundamental premises rooted in the binary of outsiders/insiders, cut-off dates, and primordial claims over land, threatens to aggravate the already existing soical etnsions.

International Convention and Indian Law

The Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961, creates an obligation on States to reduce statelessness. To this end, amongst other matters, the Convention provides that States “shall not deprive a person of his nationality if such deprivation would render him stateless”; requires that States “shall grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless” and that “If the law of a Contracting State provides for loss of its nationality by a person’s spouse or children as a consequence of that person losing or being deprived of that nationality, such loss shall be conditional upon their possession or acquisition of another nationality.”

However the steps which are being taken by Indian government seem against not only the convention but also from the constitutional point of view, the Expulsion Act and the NRC process under it violate the right to equality under Article 14 and the right to Life and personal liberty under Article 21 (both of which are guaranteed to all persons, not just to citizens) because they vest vast arbitrary and unguided power and discretion in the executive to expel, deport and banish from Assam or from India anyone who has ever been at any point of time “ordinarily” resident in any place outside India and has at any time ever “come to Assam”.

Even those who are protected by the basic principle of international law (‘non-refoulement’) that refugees or asylum seekers should not be sent to countries where they face persecution based on "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" are required to be expelled by the Expulsion Act if they are "immigrants".

Way Forward

At a fundamental level, while dealing with issues, such as the question of citizenship, that potentially have implications for lives and livelihoods of vast masses of people, can we afford to privilege primordial identity over constitutionality, and the procedural understanding of constitutionality over its substantive-universal understanding which has humanity at its core? Considering that migration has been a historical fact of human civilisation as such and its prevalence has been increasing manifold in our times for various reasons, the idea of citizenship and the corresponding rights needs to be human-centric rather than statecentric. Declaring a section of humanity to be bereft of the rights by invoking a primordial conception of identity would reduce India to being an ethnic democracy at best and a theocracy at worst. What is required is the fostering of the civic identity consistent with the republican ideal of the Constitution.

Though the NRC is very important for the country and it cannot be ignored but the Government of India should, at the earliest, clarify, so as to clear the air, its position on the legal status of those who will stand excluded from the final NRC, and what the future holds for them. To prevent their being made “stateless”, thus depriving them of the basic human right to a nationality, Government of India must, where extradition of “non-citizens” is not possible, declare a pathway to citizenship for those excluded. Long-pending problems call for innovative solutions. These require the cooperation of all stakeholders in the democracy that is India, in a spirit of compassion, trust and respect for the dignity of the individual.

General Studies Paper- I

  • Topic: Role of women and women's organizations, Population and associated issues, Poverty and developmental issues, Urbanization, their problems and their remedies.

General Studies Paper- II

  • Topic: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

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