Why Assam’s Final NRC May Not Be A ‘Foreigner-Free’ Register
Due to the many laxities on the part of the Assam government and collusion of corrupt officials who got names of suspected Bangladeshi nationals included in the NRC, the final NRC is unlikely to be a true register of genuine Indian citizens.
The final National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam that is due to be published on 31 July may not be an error-free one. It is widely suspected that the names of a large number of illegal migrants from Bangladesh have been included in the register since these ‘foreigners’ have been more ‘resourceful’ in obtaining forged documents.
That the final NRC may not be an error-free one was evident from the pleas filed both by the Assam and Union governments before the Supreme Court of India requesting permission to carry out a random re-verification of 20 per cent of the names of people included in the draft NRC (published a year ago) in the districts bordering Assam and 10 per cent re-verification of names of people in the other districts.
This is proof enough of the fact that even the Assam and Union governments suspect that the final NRC may not be a ‘foreigner-free’ register. The Assam Public Works or APW (the NGO on whose petition the Supreme Court ordered the NRC updation exercise in 2013) has demanded a complete re-verification of all names included in the draft NRC.
After the draft NRC was published last July, the Supreme Court itself undertook a scrutiny of names excluded in the draft. Of the 3.29 crore people who had applied for enrolment of their names in the NRC, the claims of only 2.89 crore people were accepted and the names of over 40 lakh people kept out of the draft NRC.
The apex court discovered that the names of many Assamese Hindus, indigenous tribals and people hailing from other states of the country who have been living in Assam for generations had been excluded from the draft NRC.
This led the Supreme Court to order a sample re-verification of 10 per cent of the people included in the draft NRC. This led to deletion of another 1.02 lakh names from the draft NRC. This has triggered genuine fears that illegal Bangladeshi migrants had got their names included in the draft NRC.
It is being argued that if just a random 10 per cent re-verification of the names in the draft NRC (or a re-verification of about 28 lakh names) can result in detection of 1.02 lakh names being weeded out, then a full and intensive re-verification of all the names included in the draft NRC is necessary.
But last week’s pleas by the state and Union governments to re-verify 20 per cent and 10 per cent of the names in the draft NRC have come too late. The Supreme Court had set an inviolable deadline of 31 July for the publication of the final NRC. It is not that the state and Union governments have suddenly realised now that lakhs of suspected Bangladeshi migrants had managed to get their names included in the draft NRC.
This realisation would have occurred soon after the publication of the draft NRC and the state government should have made out a strong case for a complete re-verification of the draft NRC a year ago. That is why organisations like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) see the joint plea of the state and Union governments as a ploy to delay the publication of the final NRC.
But how is it that illegal migrants from Bangladesh have been able to get their names included in the draft NRC? A former chief secretary of Assam says that the illegal migrants have always been very particular about getting citizenship documents while indigenous people of Assam and Indian citizens from other states living in Assam have not bothered to do so.
“Those who know they are Indians are not as keen to obtain and flaunt their citizenship documents as those who know they are illegal migrants and have to fraudulently establish their citizenship. Thus, while many indigenous people have not bothered to get citizenship and other documents to prove their domicile in Assam, the Bangladeshis have done so with alacrity,” said the former top bureaucrat who did not want to be named.
Congress politicians looking to create and nurture vote banks have always helped illegal Bangladeshi migrants obtain Indian citizenship documents.
“They (the illegal migrants) first get ration cards on the basis of citizenship certificates, forged birth certificates and fake education certificates issued fraudulently to them by village heads, hospital authorities and school authorities respectively. On the basis of these documents, they get themselves enrolled in the voters’ lists of their respective areas and then they even get Aadhaar cards and passports based on these fake and forged documents. There is an organised and flourishing racket in Assam making such documents,” said another bureaucrat.
Many officials involved in scrutinising claims filed for inclusion of names in the NRC are also suspected to have done so in exchange for large amounts of money. This came to light with the arrest of two officials manning an NRC Seva Kendra who were caught taking bribes from applicants.
“This racket is very widespread,” says a leader of the influential AASU. Many officials manning the NRC Seva Kendras (where claims and objections for inclusion or deletion of names from the draft NRC are received, processed and verified) are also suspected to have helped their co-religionists (illegal Muslim migrants from Bangladesh).
It was found that many illegal migrants from Bangladesh who had got government jobs on the basis of false and forged documents were themselves manning the NRC Seva Kendras and indulging in malpractices to help their fellow illegal migrants gets their names included in the NRC. Many of these officials have themselves been labelled as ‘doubtful’ citizens by Foreigners’ Tribunals in the state.
The NRC updation exercise ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013 ultimately got underway in 2015. At that time, Assam’s population was 3.33 crore. But only 3.29 crore persons applied for inclusion of their names in the NRC. The remaining — four lakh people — did not bother to apply. Why? Because, suspect many, most of them are new illegal migrants from Bangladesh who have not been able to procure documents to establish their Indian citizenship. A few thousand would also be tribals and other indigenous people living in very remote areas or very poor and illiterate for who inclusion of their names in the NRC was hardly a priority.
The Assam government missed a golden opportunity to prove its honest intent to crack down on illegal Bangladeshi migrants by not doing anything to detect the 4 lakh who did not apply for inclusion of their names in the draft NRC in 2015.
“The state government should have carried out an intensive scrutiny and detected all those who did not apply (for inclusion in the NRC). That way, it could have immediately detected many foreigners (illegal migrants from Bangladesh). It is perhaps understandable that the then Congress government did not do so for its own vested political interests. But what has stopped the BJP-led government that came to power in 2016 from doing so?” wondered a senior AASU leader.
“The present state government should have kept a close watch on the NRC updation process and on officials carrying out this crucial exercise. How did it allow persons of doubtful integrity and even nationality to get involved in this exercise? And since it had doubts that many illegal Bangladeshi migrants had got their names fraudulently included in the draft NRC, what made the government wait so long till the eleventh hour before the 31 July deadline for publication of the final NRC to plead for re-verification of names? That is why many suspect the intent of even this BJP-led government in the state,” said the AASU leader.
Again, of the 40 lakh applicants whose names were left out of the draft NRC, only about 36 lakh filed claims to get their names included in the final NRC.
“Why did the remaining 4 lakh not file fresh claims for inclusion of their names in the final NRC? Because they knew that their claims based on fake and forged documents would not stand scrutiny again. But should the state government not have identified these 4 lakh people and arrested them after scrutinising their documents? Why was this not done?” asked a former IPS officer who retired as an Inspector General of Police last year.
The former India Police Service officer also pointed out that while earlier, the police were arresting those who were reported to be filing claims (for inclusion of their names in the NRC) based on fake and forged documents, the practice has been stopped over the past two years. As a result, even those whose names have not been included in the draft NRC published a year ago have been found to have filed fresh claims (for inclusion of their names in the final NRC) based on the same set of forged and fake documents.
As a result, due to the many laxities on the part of the Assam government and collusion of corrupt officials who got names of suspected Bangladeshi nationals included in the NRC, the final NRC is unlikely to be a true register of genuine Indian citizens. And organisations like the APW and others are sure to challenge the veracity of the final NRC. Perhaps, the exercise needs to be undertaken afresh and, next time, with complete sincerity and transparency.
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