“The very essence of instinct is that it’s followed independently of reason.”
– Charles Darwin
With Supreme Court extending deadline for publication of the final draft of National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam by a month, the BJP-led Sarbananda Sonowal government is now duty-bound to give an error-free register of Indian citizens. The leeway given by an apex court Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi came after the government and the State Coordinator agreed to adhere to the new deadline. The State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela in his report proposed to publish the complete draft on July 30, 2018 and said that the deadline will be maintained under any circumstances. Giving reasons for overshooting the June 30 deadline, Hajela’s report said, “Mop up operations have taken a lot of time … After stabilisation, whereas 90-95 per cent achievement happens at high speed, the remaining 5 per cent completion takes a lot of time. This has been the case here also.” The second reason cited in the report is about the activity of database preparation which involves data consolidation and can start only after completion of all data entries including quality checks. Hajela had a few days back had said it would not be possible to release the final draft of the NRC as scheduled on June 30 due to the floods in the state.
The first part of the draft NRC published on December 31 last year contained the names of 1.9 crore people out of total 3.29 crore applicants, therefore all eyes are on the second draft, which will be crucial as far as future of Assam is concerned. Those declared as foreigners earlier by Foreigners Tribunals as well as those declared as doubtful (D) voters are unlikely to find their names in the upcoming second part draft NRC. Significantly, the apex court has given directive to drop those names from the NRC which were earlier declared ‘doubtful’ and those names which figured in first draft but subsequent scrutiny found them to be ineligible. The NRC is meant to decide who is a bona fide Indian citizen and those who fail to enlist in the register will be deemed illegal migrants. The people who are preparing the NRC fail to decode illegal migrants, the very purpose of preparing the NRC, being prepared with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date as pegged in the Assam Accord, will be defeated.
The anxiety is palpable, especially the Bengali and Muslim population, for whom legitimate claims to citizenship stand on the line. Authorities now need to expedite the whole exercise, including the verification process, to meet July 30 deadline for publication of the final draft NRC. Will those people whose names do not figure in the final NRC be automatically regarded as foreigners and what will be their fate? The Centre has been maintaining a stoic silence on this issue, even through demand for their deportation from various pressure groups have been clear and loud. However, this may not be easy given that India and Bangladesh do not have an agreement to facilitate deportation of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to that country. This will render the identified illegal migrants as stateless people.