On Wednesday, May 8, the Supreme Court said the deadline for completing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam will remain July 31. The apex court did not grant Assam an extension to finalise the NRC but did allow the state’s NRC coordinator to decide who to include or exclude from the list.
India Today reports that the SC has given Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela the authority to decide cases of wrong exclusion or inclusion of residents in the state.
Hajela told the court that people who have argued against their exclusion in the first draft of the NRC have not appeared before appropriate authorities to resolve their citizenship status.
However, CJI Ranjan Gogoi told Hajela to “be brave and keep the law in mind”, according to the Hindustan Times.
The Congress in Assam approached the Registrar General of Indian and Census Commissioner against the NRC process in the state.
In a memorandum, the party said, “Sir, it has become a matter of great concern for us that the State NRC Authority, headed by the State Coordinator, NRC, Shri Prateek Hajela, has restored to constantly changing the goalposts in the NRC update process.”
The Congress is arguing that the NRC should not be influenced by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 because it originated from the Assam Accord 1985, an agreement that states any Bangladeshi who entered India post 1971 will be considered “illegal”, regardless of religion.
However, the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 is a highly controversial one, seeking to give citizenship to only Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, and Parsi refugees, not Muslim.
The Congress said Hajela is using his power to exclude “genuine Indian citizens” from the NRC, especially religious minorities that the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 also excludes.
What is the NRC?
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is one of BJP’s promises to its supporters that has also made its way into the party’s 2019 manifesto. The NRC is a national list or register of “legal” residents or citizens of India.
The NRC is not yet legally linked to the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016, but it is connected to the Assam Accord of 1985 that does not discriminate on the basis of religion. However, opposition parties, like the Congress, are claiming that the NRC coordinator in Assam is deciding the NRC according to the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016.
A draft of the NRC for Assam was first published on July 30, 2018 and included 2.89 crore citizens. Currently, 2,48,077 people are waiting to hear whether or not they will be counted as citizens, while 37,59,630 people’s applications have been rejected.
Why is the NRC a controversial issue?
Critics of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 say the BJP is trying to give citizenship on the basis of religion because the Bill excludes Muslims and Christians. Such a Bill is a volatile piece of legislation, especially in the Northeast that has a history of ethnic cleansing, says Rana Ayyub.
People in Assam have protested against this Bill under the belief that immigrants will change the indigenous and ethnic fabric of the state. State officials also believe that the Centre will not come to Assam’s financial or political aid when rehabilitating these immigrants.
Moreover, there is no clarity on the impact of the NRC decided on the basis of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016 in border states other than Assam. Crores of families also stand to lose their right to legally reside in India if the NRC coordinators in their respective states decide their citizenship status on the basis of the 2016 Bill.
Assam’s implementation of the NRC could become a model for how other states go about the process, hopefully by avoiding the violence that has erupted in the Northeast.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius.