Assam NRC notification up in air, home ministry seeks issue of rejection slips to delisted, reveals RTI

Last week Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was quoted by the media as saying that NRC was not final and Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma filed an affidavit before the apex court making a case for reverification

Rajeev Bhattacharyya February 08, 2021 18:37:28 IST
Assam NRC notification up in air, home ministry seeks issue of rejection slips to delisted, reveals RTI

Representational image of an NRC Seva Kendra in Assam. Firstpost/Manash Das

The home ministry has made a case for issuing ‘rejection slips’ to the delisted people from the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam in a bizarre twist to the controversial exercise completed two years ago.

The home ministry has approached the Supreme Court seeking permission for the issue of rejection slips by the NRC Secretariat which is a mandatory step before the people excluded from the register can approach the Foreigners Tribunals. The slips would spell out the reason for the exclusion from the register that was published on 31 August, 2019.

In reply to an RTI query, the Registrar General of India has said ‘yes’ to the development after the application was transferred by the ministry to the department. RGI is under the administrative control of the home ministry. The same application had another query on whether the ministry had written to RGI for issuing the notification on NRC to which the former replied saying “no.”

Interestingly, the ministry also replied to the RTI application which said, “The sought information is not held under the control of the designated public authority. The matter is more closely connected with the functioning of office of Registrar General of India (RGI)…”

RGI has not yet issued the notification on NRC which means that the register is not a legal document. Without the notification, the NRC Secretariat cannot issue rejection slips to the people delisted from the register.

Assam NRC notification up in air home ministry seeks issue of rejection slips to delisted reveals RTI

The Registrar General of India's reply to the RTI. Rajeev Bhattacharyya

So, the process of approaching the Foreigners Tribunals for a verdict on the status of these people has not commenced.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission has announced that the delisted people would be allowed to cast votes in the forthcoming assembly polls in Assam.

It is unclear from the replies whether it was the RGI or the home ministry that had approached the Supreme Court with the affidavit seeking permission to issue rejection slips.

A section of senior Assam government officials expressed surprise over the RTI replies. “It is unlikely that the RGI has filed the affidavit before the Supreme Court. The department seems to have landed in an uncomfortable position between the home ministry and the BJP which has rejected the NRC in its current form,” claimed an official.

The NRC was updated by RGI following an order from the Supreme Court which also monitored the jumbo exercise lasting for close to six years. It incurred expenses of around Rs 1,400 crore and the engagement of more than 50,000 government officials besides 7,000 data entry operators.

The NRC deleted the names of 19,06,657 applicants out of a total of 3,30,27,661 applicants. The final count marks an increase of nearly 2.2 million citizens from the draft list published a year earlier and an additional list of exclusion months later which means that a large number of people who were left out were approved after they filed claims for inclusion in the register.

Also, in the final list of delisted people were nearly four lakh who did not file claims for inclusion after their names were deleted in the draft list.

The ruling BJP is unwilling to accept the NRC in its current form for two reasons. Among the delisted people are lakhs of Bangladeshi Hindus who comprise a prominent vote-bank for the party in Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. And the party believes that a large chunk of Muslims from the neighbouring country had enrolled their names in the register through fraudulent means.

Besides the BJP, similar demands for reverification have been raised by prominent civil society groups and NGOs in Assam such as the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and Assam Public Works (APW).

Last September, at a meeting convened in New Delhi and attended by Union home minister Amit Shah, Assam chief Sarbananda Sonowal and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, it was decided that the Assam government would file a fresh affidavit in the Supreme Court seeking 20 per cent sample reverification of names included in the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the districts bordering Bangladesh and 10 per cent in the remaining districts.

Last week Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was quoted by the media as saying that NRC was not final and Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma had filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court making a case for reverification of the enrolled names.

Certainly, all these developments do not appear to be in sync with the idea of issuing rejection slips and the beginning of the judicial process by the Foreigners Tribunals for a verdict on the status of the people delisted from the NRC.

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