draft-national-register-of-citizens-nrc

 

  • Draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) was formulated recently, which includes only those able to prove they were in Assam before 1971. Officially, the NRC process will address the issue of illegal migrants, specifically from Bangladesh.
  • This time, the updating was not carried out on the basis of census records, unlike 1951 but on claims made by residents who submitted documents such as legacy data in support of their claims. There was consensus among all political parties and the approval of the Supreme Court on the issue of documentary proof.
  • Before independence

 

  • British encouraged continuous migration of immigrants from erstwhile Bengal, particularly land-deprived peasants, in order to increase colonial revenue from their labour on fallow land, then abundantly available in Assam.
  • The addition of the populous Sylhet to Assam in 1874 increased the Bengali population virtually overnight in the province, to the disadvantage of the Assamese population. The Bengalis became the majority population and remained so until Partition.  
  • This was a source of mistrust between the two communities and caused tension in the migration phenomenon even during the British Raj, until Sylhet went to Pakistan by a referendum during Partition
  • After independence
  • India’s Independence, the first Census of India was held in 1951, and on the basis of the census data, a unique document called the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared only for Assam because it was noticed from the previous decadal census that the State’s demographic profile was changing fast owing to migration from eastern Bengal.
  • The phenomenon of internal migration within India changed to that of infiltration by people of a foreign country. The migrants took advantage of a very lightly guarded and improperly demarcated Radcliffe line.
  • Updating the NRC to root out foreigners was a demand during the Assam Agitation (1979-1985)

Who is a citizen in Assam?

  • Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended after the Assam Accord  for all Indian-origin people who came from Bangladesh before January 1, 1966 to be deemed as citizens.
  • Those who came between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 were eligible for citizenship after registering and living in the State for 10 years
  • Those entering after March 25, 1971, were to be deported

Issues

  • Excluded 40 lakh
  • They will need to prove that they or their ancestors were citizens on or before March 24, 1971
  • They will have to file for claims and objections and submit relevant documents for re-verification.
  • The cases of those left out of the final NRC will be again heard in the Foreigners’ Tribunals, after which applicants can approach the High Court
  • D-voter tag
    • Short for ‘dubious’ or ‘doubtful, this is a category of voters, around 2.48 lakh people, disenfranchised by the government for alleged lack of proper citizenship documents
    • D-voters are to be tried by special tribunals under the Foreigners’ Act and if they fail to defend their citizenship claim they are marked as declared foreigners and sent to any of six detention camps, which are within jails for criminals, for deportation
  • Link with insurgency
    • In the course of Assam agitation, a section of youths who were enamoured of the Naga rebellion took to the path of insurgency, and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was born. The ULFA took a different trajectory, and a solution to the insurgency problem is awaited.
    • A sort of romanticised idea of rebellion overtook sections of tribal youths of different communities, too, and many splinter insurgent groups emerged among various tribal communities.
  • Bangladesh non-cooperative
  • Although the Assam movement was for deportation, Bangladesh has never officially acknowledged that any of its citizens migrated illegally to Assam
  • Citizenship Amendment Bill 
    • It seeks to grant citizenship to Hindu Bangladeshis who have entered Assam illegally post-1971.
    • This unresolved citizenship related issue could further pose a challenge for the positive outcome of the NRC, even if completed
  • No policy on stateless persons
    • Assam has six detention camps for illegal migrants within existing jails, and proposes to build a seventh with a capacity for 3,000. These cannot, however, be expected to accommodate all the exclusions, which could finally run into lakhs.
    • India has no fixed policy for “stateless” persons. The only aspect that is more or less clear is that a “stateless” person will not have voting rights. He or she may, however, be provided certain facilities on “humanitarian grounds”.
    • As of now, nothing is clear about their rights to work, housing and government healthcare and education.
  • Refugee policy of India – Additional info
    • Being “stateless” is not the same as being a refugee.
    • India has refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka (Tamils) and West Pakistan. Among them, only the last group has the right to vote — in Lok Sabha elections but not in Assembly polls.
    • For Tibetans, the government allows Indian citizenship with a rider that they move out of Tibetan settlements and forgo refugee benefits. Under the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy, 2014, adopted in part by a few states, refugees are eligible for certain benefits under government schemes for labour, rations, housing and loans.

Way forward

  • Repatriation treaty with Bangladesh
  • While the demand has been that such people be sent back to the countries they came from, India needs to sign repatriation treaty with Bangladesh for the same
  • Formulate policy for “stateless” persons
    • Centre may consider formulating a policy for the “stateless”.
  • Work permits
    • The migrants may be given work permits, but certain sections have been opposing this idea.
  • Comprehensive border management
    • Fencing, total surveillance 24×7, use of new imaging technology etc.
  • Assistance from international organisations
    • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other concerned international agencies with experience in this kind of complex issue can help
  • Establish a SAARC convention
    • India should take the initiative to encourage other countries in the SAARC region to develop a SAARC convention or declaration on refugees in which member states would agree to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.