Assam NRC final draft: State coordinator Prateek Hajela on way ahead, technicalities to identify 'foreigners'
Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela spoke on the next steps following the release of the draft and the technicalities behind calling someone a 'foreigner'.
Seven months after the initial part draft of the much-awaited and contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) was released in Assam, the Registrar General of India released the final draft of the document in Guwahati on Monday, which includes the names of 2.89 crore citizens out of a total 3.29 crore applicants – leaving out some 40 lakh people.
Even as politicians — from Mamata Banerjee to Tarun Gogoi — questioned the procedure adopted to release the draft, the journey to the final NRC has taken a step closer to completion with Monday's announcement, state coordinator for NRC in Assam Prateek Hajela said. Hajela is credited with having overseen the developments of this project since its inception in Assam.
Speaking to Firstpost, a busy Hajela said that now a "new journey begins" from 7 August, when the public will be allowed to go to the NRC Seva Kendras to know the reasons behind their non-inclusion in the draft document. But so far, he was happy with the way the NRC website has handled the heavy traffic.
"Unlike the last time, this time there has been no website crash at all, and I'm very happy with the way the websites have handled the traffic so far. It is all going pretty smoothly. Most people have taken the online route over SMS and Seva Kendras to check their status, as we had expected," he said. Edited excerpts from the rest of the interview follow.
Are you happy with the draft that your team has come up with?
It is not a question of being happy, but one of being legally correct. It has come out through a legal process, and we are doing our constitutional duties under the orders of the Supreme Court. The numbers have come out through a process and a set of guidelines, rules and statutory provisions that have been made and agreed to by a large number of stakeholders.
We can say that we have done our best. There might be errors here and there, and we will engage with the public to remove them. They might be in the form of plain human errors or in the form of omissions of somebody genuine, or even in the form of a wrong person being included in the list. And that is how the law recognises for claims and objections.
What about the process adopted so far and the margin for error?
I will say we are satisfied with the way we have performed. This is the best possible (outcome) that could have happened and with the expertise at our disposal, we will achieve a little more in the days to come. When we engage with the public again, once we take up the claims and objections, we will certainly come up with an absolutely final and error-free NRC.
Notwithstanding the window for claims and objections, is this technically not the final NRC draft that you released today?
It's a draft. There would've been a question of finality had it not been for the part draft that was published in December 2017. Had it not been for that, we would've called it only a draft. Terms like part, complete, final and full only seem to cause unnecessary confusion, so let's call this a draft. Thereafter, when we dispose of the claims and objections of the people, we will publish the final NRC. Having said that, we have covered everybody in the state. We have carried out verification and declared the results of our verification for everybody.
Those who are rejected or have not been shown in the consolidated list have also been considered. Keeping in view the privacy concerns and orders of the Supreme Court on this matter, they will be informed of the reasons for rejection individually. Otherwise, this draft consists of results of disposal of all 3.29 crore applicants that we have.
Could you give a timeline of how the NRC process will shape up here on?
From 7 August onward, the public can go to the NRC Seva Kendras and get to know the reasons of their non-inclusion. Then from 30 August to 28 September, they may submit their claims and objections at the NRC Seva Kendras. After that, we will carry out hearings where we'll hear each individual claim or objection. And then we will publish the final NRC.
The process will end with the publication of the final NRC, and the time for that is something I cannot estimate at this stage. After publication of the final NRC, if somebody is dissatisfied with our list, then that person can go to the Foreigners' Tribunal.
Tarun Gogoi told Firstpost in an interview that a lot of genuine Indians have been left out in this NRC draft. Given you started this process under him, is that a concern you share as well?
See, we cannot claim 100 percent accuracy in the draft because the law itself provides for claims and objections from people. If he says that I am 100 percent accurate, that would mean taking away the legal process of claims and objections. We will engage with the public, they can file their concerns, and only after the disposal of all cases we will move forward.
After the final NRC is released — and whenever that is done — will and can the people left out from the list be termed as foreigners?
No. Declaring someone as a foreign has to go through judicial scrutiny. The NRC process at the end of the day is an executive process. Only a judicial authority has the right to pronounce anybody a foreigner, technically speaking. We can only say that these persons who do not appear in the final NRC were unable to prove Indian citizenship as per existing provisions.
So, what will they be termed as? Are they still Indian citizens or not after having not appeared in the final NRC?
I can't call them either way (Indians or foreigners). I am not authorised to give a declaration to that effect. I can only make a positive list of citizens who have been able to prove their citizenship as per the modalities which are prescribed.
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