7 PM | Do we need a countrywide National Register of Citizens? | 11th October, 2019

Context: All IndiaNational Register of Citizens (NRC).

More in news: After rolling out the National Register of Citizens in Assam, the BJP-led government at the Centre has said it will conduct a similar exercise in the rest of the country. 

National Register of Citizens (NRC):

  • The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the register containing names of Indian CITIZENS.
  • National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared first in 1951 after the conduct of the Census of 1951
  • The provisions governing NRC update in Assam are ‘The Citizenship Act, 1955’ and ‘The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity cards) Rules, 2003’.
The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity cards) Rules, 2003:
It states that for the formation of National Register of Indian Citizens
The Registrar General of Citizen Registration shall establish and maintain the National Register of Indian Citizens.
The National Register of Indian Citizens shall be divided into sub-parts consisting of the State Register of Indian Citizens, the District Register of Indian Citizens, the Sub-district Register of Indian Citizens and the Local Register of Indian Citizens and shall contain such details as the Central Government may, by order, in consultation with the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, specify.
The Citizenship Act, 1955: This act mentions four ways in which a person may be Indian citizen viz. by birth, by descent, by registration and by naturalization. Citizenship by birth and descent are called natural citizens.       

Background:

  • There had been several waves of migration to Assam from Bangladesh but the two major waves of migration came after British rule — first after Partition, from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), and then the biggest in the aftermath of the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. This eventually led to an agitation during 1979-85, led by the All Assam Students’ Union demanding illegal migrants to be identified and deported.
  • The Assam Accord of 1985 that ended the six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation decided upon the midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to root out foreigners. The NRC process was thus started to address the issue of illegal migrants, specifically from Bangladesh.

Role of Supreme Court:

  • Supreme Court has decided that it will judicially oversee the process of updating the NRC which is supposed to help identify Indian citizens residing in Assam in accordance with the Citizenship Act, 1955 and Assam accord. 
  • The first draft published in 2017 include only 1.9 crore names (less than 60% of state’s population), causing panic among masses but averted on the promise that more names to come. 
  • A section considers it non-transparent and questioned the neutrality of presiding judge, Justice Ranjan Gogoi , who himself hails from Assam. 
  • It has led to a court that has discarded procedure, caused grievous injury to vulnerable communities and diminished its own credibility through its overreach on matters. 

Outcome of the NRC Updation in Assam:

  • Of the 3.3 crore applicants, 3.11 crore figured in the final citizens’ list, while about 19 lakh residents were excluded from the final list published on August 31, 2019.
  • The excluded people have about 120 days to appeal against their exclusion to the foreigner tribunals. To speed up the process 200 new tribunals have been made functional in addition to the already existing. If they are not satisfied with the tribunals, people can also move to high court and the Supreme Court for redressal.

Does India need Pan-India NRC?

  • NRC exercise makes sense in Assam because in 1971 around 10 million people crossed over from Bangladesh to India and that caught the attention of authorities. However, there is no need to get into this foolhardy kind of exercise at national level, which is likely to divide the nation terribly. 
  • All India NRC cannot be seen separately. The citizenship amendment bill seems to be in line with the proposed NRC for whole of India. If both are seen together, it will only manifold the problems of communalism.

Issues with NRC:

  • There is uncertainty about the future of those left out from the list.
  • Expelling them to Bangladesh is not an option since Dhaka has never accepted that they are its citizens or that there is a problem of illegal immigration. In the absence of a formal agreement, India cannot forcibly push the illegal migrants back into Bangladesh.
  • Moreover, raising this issue can also jeopardise relations with Dhaka. Such an attempt would not only damage bilateral relations but also sully the country’s image internationally.
  • Apart from deportation, the other option is large scale detention camps – which is an unlikely option for a civilised democracy like India.
  • Another option is instituting work permits, which would give them limited legal rights to work but ensure they have no political voice. However, it is not clear what will be the fate of children of such individuals.
  • With no end to uncertainty, NRC seems to be a process without an end.

Conclusion: India, as a country which follows the ideology of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, should not be hasty in taking decisions that can disenfranchise her citizens – contradicting its centuries-followed values. A person’s citizenship is a basic human right. Declaring people foreigners in haste without judicially verifying their credentials can leave many human beings stateless.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/do-we-need-a-countrywide-national-register-of-citizens/article29649391.ece

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