Two years of Assam NRC: Uncertainty looms over re-verification process

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By PTI

GUWAHATI: Two years have gone by since the final draft of NRC was published on this day in Assam, leaving out over 19 lakh applicants, all efforts to overhaul the list, amid cries that genuine names were excluded, have only hit the wall with demands for re-verification of the document still pending before the Supreme Court.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) — prepared in accordance with Assam Accord provisions — catalogues names of the “genuine citizens” of the country.

The initial document was made way back in 1951, based on the data of Independent India’s first census.

The ones, who did not find a place in the updated list, have since been running from pillar to post, trying to figure out how to get their names enlisted, as uncertainty looms over their future.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, when asked about the concerns over the NRC draft, simply stated here that “the matter is pending in the Supreme Court and I will not like to comment on it”.

Sarma, on assuming office on May 10, had, however, said that his government wants 20 per cent verification of the names in the border districts and 10 per cent in the remaining districts.

“If the error found is very negligible, we can proceed with the existing NRC.

If huge anomalies are found during re-verification, I hope the court will take note of this and do the needful with a new perspective,” he had said back then.

Several stakeholders claimed that the Supreme Court-monitored exercise carried out to update the list was a “faulty one”, following which aggrieved individuals were told to approach foreigner tribunals set up for the purpose.

However, the rejection slips required to approach the tribunals have not been issued yet.

Also, the Registrar General of India is yet to publish the final draft.

State NRC Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma, who is currently undergoing COVID-19 treatment in a hospital, had filed an interlocutory application in the Supreme Court in May this year, seeking a time-bound re-verification of the list as “there were major irregularities in the process”.

The Assam Public Works (APW), the original petitioner in the Supreme Court for NRC update, also raised a similar demand, holding the former state coordinator Prateek Hajela responsible for the “anomalies”.

“We have filed eight affidavits — six before the publication of the draft and two seeking re-verification of the list — but there has been no hearing in the Supreme Court on the matter since January 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the president of the NGO, Aabhijeet Sarma, told PTI.

He further sought to know why no action was taken by the state government against Hajela for the “large-scale financial irregularities that were involved in the process”.

“We lodged ten complaints with the CBI and the CID alleging huge misappropriation of funds meant for updating the NRC.

If the government was really interested in unravelling the truth, they could have taken necessary steps,” he asserted.

The APW may approach the Gauhati High Court on the issue, he added.

Sarma, on his part, said approximately Rs 1,600 crore was released by the Centre and “we have requested an inquiry into the whole process of funds utilisation”.

Congress Lok Sabha MP Abdul Khaleque told PTI that the BJP government in the state and the Centre are not “serious about resolving the problems involving the NRC”.

“I did flag the delay in issuance of rejection slip, during the last session of the Parliament, but the Union Home Minister (Amit Shah) had replied that the pandemic and the flood situation have caused hindrances.

“We do not go by that excuse as the BJP, it seems, can do everything else except taking the NRC matter ahead,” Khaleque maintained.

In a similar vein, AIUDF MLA Ashraful Hussain, who was actively involved in helping Muslims of East Bengal (now Bangladesh) to file their documents for the exercise, also called for immediate issuance of the rejection slips.

He further sought “unblocking” of biometric details of those who have been included in the final list after exclusion in a 2018 draft, as most of them have not been able to procure their Aadhar cards yet.

The Supreme Court had directed in November 2018 that for those left out of the draft NRC list published on July 31, 2018, it was mandatory to submit their biometrics during the claim hearings.

Altogether 27 lakh people had registered for biometrics but 19 lakh did not find their names in the final list.

The Supreme Court, taking up the APW petition in 2013, had asked both the central and state governments to begin the process for updating the NRC, with the creation of an office for a state coordinator.

The preparation of the updated NRC document, a mammoth exercise involving 52,000 officials who scrutinised over six crore documents, was mired in multiple controversies.

When the complete draft was released on July 30 2018, over 40 lakh people were excluded from the list.

An additional 1,02,462 people were left out in June that year, taking the total number of those excluded to 41,10,169.

However, it got pared down to little over 19 lakh in the final register.



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