Assam NRC: SC allows deletion of 1.15 lakh names included in first draft from final version set to be published on 30 July

Names of about 1.15 lakh persons which were included in the first draft of the updated National Register of Citizens in Assam published on 31 December, 2017, will be excluded from the final draft. The Supreme Court in its order on 2 July approved a proposal by the State Coordinator, National Register of Citizens (NRC), Assam to this effect. The Supreme Court has also fixed 30 July as the new date for publication of the final draft.

State Coordinator, NRC Assam, Prateek Hajela submitted before the apex court that these 1.15 lakh persons already included in Part Draft "have not been found admissible for inclusion” in the complete draft during the verification process. These 1.15 lakh cases include 65,694 cases of “family tree mismatch” and 48,456 cases of married women who have submitted Panchayat certificates.

"The Part Draft NRC comprising 1.9 crore applicants out of the total 3.29 crore applicants were published on 31 December 2017. At that stage, the family tree mismatch investigation and Gaon Panchayat Secretary certificate verification in respect of married women were pending and scheduled for the subsequent draft list. During the course of the Family Tree investigation, 65,694 cases which were earlier found to be matched at office level were discovered to be false. Due opportunity has been given to such persons during the Family Tree hearing and as such their names are proposed for exclusion from Complete Draft NRC as per the provisions of Clause 4(3), 4(5) & 4(6) of the Citizenship Rules, 2003,"

"Similarly, 48,456 cases of married women who have submitted Panchayat certificates as a linkage document but were included in the Part Draft based on their office verification have not been found admissible in the re-verification process of hearing conducted for Gaon Panchayat Secretary Certificate verification as mandated by the Hon’ble Court. These married women were also issued notices and have appeared subsequent to their inclusion in the Part Draft for special verification conducted in respect of Gaon Panchayat Secretary Certificates. As such, 1.15 lakh persons already included in Part Draft have not been found admissible for inclusion during the verification process in the Complete Draft though were part of the Part Draft," stated Hajela in his report submitted to the Supreme Court on 29 June.

File image of NRC Assam coordinator Prateek Hajela. Reuters

File image of NRC Assam coordinator Prateek Hajela. Reuters

Explaining the "family tree mismatch" in respect of 65,694 applicants the state coordinator claimed that it was found during the family tree verification process that some persons had submitted legacy data codes but could not establish any relationship with the person whose legacy data they had used in the application.

That means the legacy data code submitted by such person actually belonged to other applicants who could establish themselves to be the true descendants of the legacy person while person included in the part draft failed to prove him/herself to be the real descendant.

Family tree verification is a system by which all legacy data submitted by all the applicants are examined to determine the genuine descendants. The 1951 NRC and all electoral rolls up to midnight of 24 March, 1971, are all digitised and collectively called as legacy data. Each entry in the legacy data is given a PNR type unique number called Legacy Data Code.

A computerised family tree is a software that generates all records of submitted data i.e. the details of all persons who have claimed to be children/grandchildren of the same legacy person against any legacy data code. Manual Family Tree is a form manually filled up by the applicants giving the names of the ancestor, and his/her grandchildren viz brothers, sisters or uncles, aunts etc. of the applicants. Both the computerised family tree and manual family tree details are matched to identify likely false claim for NRC name registration. All descendants who may be living in different places in the state are called to attend a single hearing held at a centrally located place. The genuine descendants identify the impostors in these hearings.

The family tree verification was designed to detect suspected misuse of legacy data code by any applicant. Citing an instance, he said, if in computerised family tree revealed details of four applicants claiming descendance from a single legacy person or a single ancestor (father, grandfather, grandmother etc.) but comparison with manual family tree statements reveals that three of the applicants who are actually brothers or sisters recognise each other as they are and the real descendants of the legacy person while they do not recognise the fourth person who has no link with them or the legacy person then, it is confirmed that the fourth person is an impostor and had submitted false claim of legacy data.

Sometimes, it can be the other way round and it turns out in the hearings that the three have ganged up together to deprive the fourth lone person who is the real descendant. As such, during the hearings that were held from February this year onwards, it was found that some persons who had already been included in the part draft were not the true descendants. The state coordinator, however, explained that all those 65,694 excluded due to family tree investigation would be able to appeal for reconsideration of their application or submit new documents for verification during the claims and objection after the publication of the complete draft.

When asked about the exclusion of 48,456 married women from the complete draft, who earlier were included in Part Draft, the NRC State Coordinator explains that at the time of publication of the part draft there was little time left for detail verification as directed by the Supreme Court on 5 December on the panchayat certificates submitted by married women.

Hence, based only on verification of authenticity by issuing authority and field verification results, names of some married women who had submitted such certificates were erroneously included by the field officers. However, the Supreme Court made it clear in the judgment dated 5 December 2017 that the certificates issued by the GP Secretary/Executive Magistrate will be acted upon only to establish a linkage between the holder of such certificate and the person(s) from whom a legacy is being claimed.

The apex court said in the judgement the certificate will be put to such limited use only if the contents of the certificate are found to be established on due and proper enquiry and verification.

Government officials educate people on how to find easy access to information on complete draft NRC at Kharadora under Balaji Revenue Circle in Assam's Barpeta district. Image courtesy @nrcassam

Government officials educate people on how to find easy access to information on complete draft NRC at Kharadora under Balaji Revenue Circle in Assam's Barpeta district. Image courtesy @nrcassam

"Thorough verification of the panchayat certificates submitted by married women could not be taken up before publication of part draft and some such applicants were inadvertently included in the part draft. Exhaustive verification as directed by the Supreme Court was started only in April this year and in respect of these women it has been found that the contents of the certificates submitted to claim that she is the daughter of the person whose legacy data has been used were not established during the verification and therefore their linkages were rejected," Hajela says.

However, after the publication of the complete draft, they would be able to appeal during claim and objection process for re-verification of the certificates or submit additional authentic documents that prove their eligibility.

The Clause 4(3), 4(5) and 4(6) of the Citizenship Rules, 2003 stipulate that for the purposes of preparation and inclusion in the NRC, the particulars collected of every family and  individual shall  be  verified and scrutinised by the Local Registrar, every person shall be given opportunity of being heard before a final decision is taken to include or exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRC) and the draft of the Local Register of Indian Citizens shall be published, for inviting any objections or for inclusion of any name or corrections for the family or individual particulars collected and proposed to be finally entered in the NRC.

The apex court also approved the NRC state coordinator’s proposal to inform these 1.5 lakh persons about the decision to exclude their name and they can file a claim for inclusion at the claim/objection stage. "Those applicants will be informed additionally through a Letter of Information (LOI). The LOI will have to be served to the rejected applicants within 7 days from publication of Complete Draft. The LOI will explicitly state that the applicant has the opportunity to file Claim for inclusion. The LOI will also inform about the time schedule and place of submission of the Claim," the proposal approved by the court added. It was also proposed and approved by the court that "there will be publication only of a list of inclusions. The list of those Rejected or put on Hold will not be published."

The NRC coordinator informed the Supreme Court that in addition to 1.15 lakh persons, the quality control exercise has also revealed errors in respect of 19,783 persons who were included in the Part Draft but are not eligible. Minimal increase in this number may happen till completion of data entry. "Such errors have been observed due to wrong data entry or error at the field level in contravention to the prescribed guidelines," Hajela said in his report and added that the exercise of NRC is being done by approximately 40,000 state government functionaries and outsourced data entry operators for the first time and given its complexities and magnitude, the scale/size of error is relatively small and have been detected in the quality control exercise for necessary corrections.

The division bench comprising of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman also approved the “proposals contained in a, b, c and d of paragraph 18” submitted by Hajela in his report and directed the State Coordinator to act accordingly.” However, what contained in these proposals was not revealed in the court order.

Earlier on 22 June, the Gauhati High Court upheld a directive of the NRC state coordinator issued on 2 May to all deputy commissioners in which he had asked them to put on hold the inclusion of names of siblings and other family members of declared foreigners in the final draft. The high court dismissed a petition challenging the directive. The Assam government informed the State Assembly that altogether 90,206 foreigners had been identified since 1985 and 29,783 have been pushed back and 75 have been expelled over the past 33 years.

However, the declared foreigners also include those entering the state on or after 1 January 1966 but before 25 March 1971. This 1966-71 stream of foreigners is required, in accordance with the Assam Accord, to register themselves before the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and they will have no voting rights for a period of ten years from the date of registration at the FRRO concerned. The NRC modalities say that names of only those registered with the FRRO will be included in the updated NRC.

The final draft will also exclude names of 1,25,333 ‘D’ (doubtful/disputed) voters. They have been allowed to apply for inclusion of their names in the NRC currently being updated. The NRC modalities say that they would be included in the final list only after their names were cleared by the Foreigners’ Tribunal concerned. In 1997 the Election Commission directed attaching the tag ‘D’ against those voters who, allegedly failed to provide proof of Indian citizenship and they were barred from voting till their names were cleared by foreigners’ tribunals.

All these indicate that NRC authorities’ hands will be full even after publication of the final draft on 30 July with those excluded filing their fresh claims for inclusion of their names.  The NRC authorities have informed the apex court that the Consolidation of central database and generation of PDFs of the NRC Draft for 3.29 crore applicants will be carried out from 21 July till 26 July and taking printouts of three copies of 22 lakh pages PDFs of the NRC final draft will be done from 23 July till 29 July.

Latest developments have triggered fresh speculation about the number of persons to be excluded from the final draft and how it is going impact the next Census 2021 in the state, the process of which has already begun. Language Data of 2011 published recently has revealed that while the percentage of Assamese, Bodo, Rabha and Santali speakers to the total population in the state have declined that of Bengali and Hindi speakers have increased.

The percentage of Assamese speakers in Assam declined to 48.38 in 2011 from 48.80 in 2001. The number of Bodo speakers declined to 4.53 percent in 2011 from 4.86 percent in 2001. The number of Rabha speakers have declined from 1,30,875  in 2001 to 101,752 in 2011 that of Santali speakers declined from 2,42,886 in 2001 to 2,13,139 in 2011 in the state. On the other hand, the percentage of Bengali speakers in the state increased to 28.91 in 2011 from 27.54 in 2001 and that of Hindi speakers increased to 6.73 percent in 2011 from 5.89 In 2001.

In 1991, the percentage of Assamese speakers in Assam was 57.81 percent and that of Bengali was 21.67 percent. The language data of 2011 coming just about a month ahead of publication of the final draft of the NRC has put the spotlight on the controversy over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 that seeks to grants citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to six non-Muslim communities Hindu, Sikhs,Parsis, Jains, Christians and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Some organisations including the All Assam Students’ Union, which are opposed to the bill, have attributed the decline in Assamese speakers in the state to unabated influx of illegal migrants through the porous India-Bangladesh border and reiterated that if the bill is allowed to be passed then it would pose grave threat to identities and existence of Assamese and other indigenous language speakers.

The Assam unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the BJP-led coalition government headed by Sarbananda Sonowal announced that they would clarify their position on the bill after the publication of the final draft of the NRC. Apart from the data of the final NRC draft, the ruling party will now also have the language data in hand to articulate its position on the bill which is expected to be critical to its electoral prospects in the state in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The author is a senior journalist and editor of NEZINE.

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Updated Date: Jul 04, 2018 14:27:09 IST

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