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Assam: NRC authorities to delete names of ‘ineligible persons’ from citizens register

The National Register of Citizens, published in August last year under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court, excluded 19 lakh-odd applicants out
of around 3.3 crore applicants.

Authorities of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam have ordered the deletion of “ineligible” names from the prepared register, a step coming off the heels of the state government’s persistent stand that a 10-20 per cent re-verification of all included names is necessary in order to get a “correct” register.

The NRC, published in August last year under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court, excluded 19 lakh-odd applicants out
out of around 3.3 crore applicants.

In a letter dated October 13 to all DCs, Hitesh Dev Sarma, the state coordinator of the NRC, explained that “some names of ineligible persons” — persons declared as a foreigner by Foreigners Tribunals (DF), persons marked as Doubtful Voters (DV) by the election officials or persons whose cases are pending at Foreigners Tribunals (PFTs) and their decadents — “found entry to the NRC”.

As per the laws governing the preparation of the NRC, persons falling in the above categories need to be kept out of the NRC.

Sarma instructed the district incharges of the NRC to “write speaking orders for deletion of such names…after specifically ascertaining the identity of the person”.

Explained: Who are the 19 lakh excluded from Assam NRC, and what next for them?

“The verification would mandatorily require the correct identity of the person so that no ambiguity arises in future so far as the identification of the person is concerned,” Sarma wrote.

He added: “You are, therefore, requested to submit the list of such persons who are not eligible for having their names in the NRC along with speaking order justifying reasons for each case for necessary action for deletion of such names.”

Speaking to The Indian Express Wednesday, Sarma said: “Yes, we have started the process to delete names from the NRC of ‘declared foreigners’, ‘doubtful voters’, those who have cases pending at FTs and their descendants. List of names are still coming in from several districts and it would not be fair to comment on the total number of such erroneous inclusions into the NRC right now. Let us get the complete lists.”

One explanation that observers cite for such wrongful exclusion is that there is a lack of a synchronised real-time database which reflects the status of a suspected “foreigner” to the NRC officials. A centralised database which will streamline databases of people declared or suspected to be “foreigners” by parallel processes, like the status of cases at Foreigners Tribunals and investigations by the Border branch of the state police, officials say.

The Assam government has reiterated that it sticks to its demand of re-verification — 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere — of the included names in the final NRC, even as it continued its criticism of the former NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela holding him responsible for what it calls an erroneous NRC with allegedly wrongful inclusion and exclusion.

“We want a correct NRC… The NRC just completed is flawed. We have appealed to the SC that people of Assam will never accept this NRC. Names of many illegal foreigners are included in it. NRC should include names of only the genuine Indian citizens,” Assam Chief Sarbananda Sonowal said, speaking at a rally in Dibrugarh earlier this month, adding that the government’s appeal seeking re-verification is still pending at the SC.

Hajela, a 1995-batch Indian Administrative Service officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, who led the NRC preparation exercise as its state coordinator since 2013 was transferred out of Assam last year by the Supreme Court. His transfer was preceded by what appeared to be a deterioration of his relations with the state government. Hajela was replaced by Sarma, an Assam Civil Service officer who had served as Executive Director of the NRC from 2014 to February 2017.

The NRC process has hit a stonewall as of now since the rejection orders to the 19 lakh excluded persons–which will allow them to appeal against the exclusion in the Foreigners’ Tribunals –is yet to be issued. Officials have cited Covid as a reason for the delay. Moreover, Sarma had earlier told The Indian Express that he had found several discrepancies in some orders to be issued and hence instructed a re-check, which is ongoing.

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