The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the long-delayed culmination of the Assam Movement against illegal migrants which led to the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985. An Amendment in 1986 that brought Section 6A to the Citizenship Act, 1955 created a special category of citizens in relation to Assam. Under the amendment, citizenship criteria for the state of Assam shall be as follows:
- those who entered Assam from specified territory (territories included in Bangladesh after immediately before commencement of Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 1985) before January 1, 1966 and have been ordinary residents will be deemed Indian Citizens,
- those who entered between January 1, 1966 to March 24, 1971 will get electoral rights at expiry of 10 years from the date of detection as foreigners, and
- those who entered Assam after March 24, 1971, would be declared foreigners and deported.
Following people are also eligible to be included in NRC-
- People who came from Bangladesh between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971, registered themselves with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office and were declared by the Foreigner Tribunal as Indian citizens.
- All Indian citizens including their descendants who moved to Assam after March 24, 1971. (They need to furnish proof of residence in another part of the country as on March 24, 1971.)
Several petitions including by Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, have been filed in the Supreme Court. A decision is yet to be made on these petitions.
The major statutes governing the administrative process of NRC in Assam are:
- The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, published under the Citizenship Act, 1955, and
- The Foreigners’ Tribunals Order, 1964 (as amended in 2019) which was passed by Government of India (GoI) under Section 3 of Foreigners Act, 1946. The GoI can constitute Foreigners Tribunals whenever required to look into the question of whether a person is or not a foreigner within the meaning of Foreigners Tribunals Act, 1946.
The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 provides for Special Provision as to manner of preparation of National Register of Indian Citizen in State of Assam which are specified in the schedule appended in these rules.
The Foreigners Tribunals Order, 1964 (as amended in 2019) sets the procedure for functioning of the Tribunals and procedure for appeal against inclusion or exclusion under the NRC.
The Registrar General of Citizens Registration published the final NRC on 31st August, 2019 which excludes 19,06,657 people. Persons excluded from the NRC Final List will not be detained under any circumstances till they exhaust all remedies available to them. The State of Assam through the District Legal Service Authorities, has provisioned free legal Aid Assistance to any person excluded from NRC and who is unable to afford such legal assistance.
Following are the legal remedies available to anyone excluded from the NRC Final list-
As per paragraph 8 of the schedule appended to the Citizenship Rules 2003 and Section 1B of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019, any aggrieved person may prefer an appeal before the Foreigners Tribunal within 120 days from the date of the order. After the disposal of appeal by the Tribunal, the names shall be included or deleted, as the case maybe in the National Register of Indian Citizens in the State of Assam.
Section 9 of the Foreigners’ Tribunal Act puts the onus on the individual to prove that he or she is not a foreigner and empowers the Tribunal to pass ex-parte orders.
Eligibility to appeal:
- Those whose name does not appear in the list (meaning thereby has been excluded from the list)
- Those persons against whom a reference has already been made by the competent authority to any foreigners tribunal will not be eligible to file the appeal to any tribunal.
- If any Foreigners Tribunal has already given an opinion about any person earlier as a foreigner, such a person will not be eligible to file an appeal to any tribunal.
Documents required at the time of appeal:
The Appellants will have to prove that they or their ancestors were living in Assam on or before March 24, 1971. Also, anyone who participated in the electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or who are descendants of any such citizens, are eligible for inclusion in the NRC. Besides, the original documents such as birth certificates and land records – as long as these were issued before the cutoff date, would also be admissible as a proof of citizenship.
People who had submitted documents in order to establish their linkage to March 24, 1971 or earlier but still excluded from the NRC list may face an additional problem as their papers were not enough to establish this linkage. Such people face the task of finding documents other than those that were rejected, and must establish other linkages that connect them either to an ancestor or the land.
The list of documents which pertain to the appellant himself/herself is as follows:
(1)1951 NRC OR
(2) Electoral Roll(s) up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) OR
(3) Land & Tenancy Records OR
(4) Citizenship Certificate OR
(5) Permanent Residential Certificate OR
(6) Refugee Registration Certificate OR
(7) Passport OR
(8) LIC OR
(9) Any Govt. issued License/Certificate OR
(10) Govt. Service/ Employment Certificate OR
(11) Bank/Post Office Accounts OR
(12) Birth Certificate OR
(13) Board/University Educational Certificate OR
(14) Court Records/Processes.
The list of documents that can help establish a relationship with ancestors namely, father or mother or grandfather or grandmother or great grandfather or great grandmother (and so on), and those documents which do not pertain to the appellant himself/herself are:
(1) Birth Certificate OR
(2) Land document OR
(3) Board/University Certificate OR
(4) Bank/LIC/Post Office records OR
(5) Circle Officer/GP Secretary Certificate in case of married women OR
(6) Electoral Roll OR
(7) Ration Card OR
(8) Any other legally acceptable document
Process of the Tribunal:
Paragraph 3A of the Foreigners (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019 provides for the procedure for the disposal of these appeals. It lays down the following-
- The appellant should provide a certified copy of the rejection order received from the NRC authorities along with the grounds for appeal.
- The appellant can appear either in person or through a lawyer or through a relation authorised by him in writing and accepted by the tribunal.
- The tribunal will send a notice to the District Magistrate to produce the NRC records( application form, documents submitted by the appellant, orders passed by the NRC authorities) within 30 days from the date of the receipt of the notice. Copy of the said notice will also be sent to the pleaders appearing for the government and the appellant.
- The DM can also refer to the tribunal for its opinion the question as to whether the appellant is a foreigner or not. In such a case the tribunal will decide the reference along with the appeal.
- Upon production of the NRC records by the DM if the tribunal finds merit in the appeal it will issue a notice of hearing to the appellant and the DM fixing the date of hearing and such date will be within 30 days from the date of the production of the records.
- During the hearing the tribunal will give the appellant, the government and the District Magistrate a reasonable opportunity to present their case which includes the filing of any representation, or producing documents or any evidence in support of their case.
- After hearing all the concerned parties the tribunal will dispose of the appeal by recording its opinion.
- The final order of the tribunal will contain its opinion on whether the appellant is eligible for inclusion in the NRC or not. It will be a concise statement of facts and conclusion based on which the tribunal has arrived at such an opinion. It will be given within 120 days from the date of production of the records.
- The tribunal will have the power to regulate its own procedure for disposal of the cases expeditiously in a time bound manner.
The Supreme Court has further clarified in Abdul Kuddus v Union of India (2019) 6 SCC 604, that any person aggrieved from the order of the Foreigners Tribunals will have the liberty to file a writ petition or, if necessary, a review application before the High Court or the Supreme Court to ensure that no injustice is done.
What lies ahead?
India does not have any formal repatriation treaty with Bangladesh, and those excluded from the register will have nowhere to go. India will essentially create a new set of ‘stateless’ people. In bilateral engagements with Bangladesh, India has not officially taken up the subject. In such a scenario deportation of the people termed non-citizens is not plausible. The Government has not clarified its stance on this issue.