Illegal immigration costs taxpayers billions a year in health care, education, and incarceration expenses.
- The National Citizens Register of ASSAM (NRC) has been a contentious issue for a very long time. The recent declaration of the Draft NRC which covered 3.29 crore applicants found 2.89 Crore making the list, leaving about 40 lakh people who did not meet the laid down criteria. This created an uproar which reverberated in the parliament and the Government assuaged all stakeholders that this was only a DRAFT LIST and people have been given 30 days to appeal. The NRC can trace back its history from a very long time ago and the sensitivities need to be appreciated in the proper perspective.
- The migration and its effects in ASSAM can be traced back to the 19th and 20th Centuries during the Colonial era when a large number of farmers from Bengal migrated in search of fertile land. Way back in 1931, The Census Superintendent had quoted
“The invasion of a vast horde of land-hungry immigrant is probably the most important event, which is likely to alter permanently the whole feature of Assam and to destroy the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization.” (Politics of Migration by Dr.Manju Singh, Anita Publications, Jaipur, 1990, Page 59).
- Post partition this influx continued unabated. A fact enunciated in the WHITE PAPER published by the Govt of Assam in Oct 2012, HISTORICAL SECTION 1.2
“Following Partition and communal riots in the subcontinent, Assam initially saw an influx of refugees and other migrants from East Pakistan. The number of such migrants other than refugees was initially reported by the State Government to be between 1,50,000 and 2,00,000 but later estimated to be around 5,00,000.”
- The Government of India formulated the IMMIGRATION ACT 1950. This act which came into effect from 1st March 1950 mandated expulsion of illegal immigrants from the state of Assam. To identify illegal immigrants, the National Register of Citizens was prepared for the first time in Assam during the conduct of 1951 Census. It was carried out under a directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) by recording particulars of every single person enumerated during that Census. Despite this step, the issue of illegal immigrants continued to haunt Assam and the 1961 Census showed 2,20,691 illegal immigrants.
- From then on right up to 1971 the migrations from East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh) continued at an alarmingly large rate. To stem this influx of illegal population the Assam Student Unions started a full-scale agitation to deport, disenfranchised and detain illegal immigrants. The six-year-long movement spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) culminated in the famous ASSAM ACCORD of 1985 which laid down the parameters dealing with the immigrant problem.
The Assam Accord of 1985
- The main clauses of the accord were:-
(a) 1st January 1966 was determined to be the precise date based on which the detention and deletion of illegal immigrants from Assam will take place.
(b) All persons who came to Assam prior to 1st January 1966 (inclusive) and up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1939.
(c) Foreigners so detected will be deleted from the Electoral Rolls in force. Such persons will be required to register themselves before the Registration Officers of the respective districts in accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1939.
(d) Foreigners who came to Assam on or after 25th March 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law.
- The process however never really got executed. A pilot project of updating the NRC in BARPETA and KAMRUP districts had to be shelved due to severe law and order problems which erupted in front of the civil administration offices. It is only in 2013 that the Honorable Supreme Court in disposing of a writ petition ordered the government to start the process of updating the NRC. Pursuant to the directive, the Registrar General of India via its notification Number S.O. 3591 E dated December 6, 2013, notified commencing of NRC. The Honorable Supreme Court is closely monitoring the process and has been holding hearings since the implementation of the project in the state in the year 2015 with the launch of Legacy Data Publication in February 2015. The bench constitutes of Honorable Justices Shri Ranjan Gogoi and Shri Rohinton Fali Nariman.
- The modalities for NRC updates have been developed jointly by the Government of Assam and the Government of India in adherence to provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
As per these statutes, the eligibility status would be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls up to 1971 and in their absence the admissible documents up to 24th March (midnight) 1971.
- The criteria laid down were:-
(a) Persons whose names appear in NRC, 1951.
(b) Persons whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 24th March (midnight), 1971.
(c) Descendants of the above persons.
(d) Persons who came to Assam on or after 1st January 1966 but before 25th March 1971 and registered themselves in accordance with the rules made by the Central Government with the Foreigners Registration Regional Officer (FRRO) and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority.
(e) People who are original inhabitants of Assam and their children and descendants who are citizens of India provided their citizenship is ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt by the registering authority.
(f) ‘D’ voters can apply for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. However, their names will be finally included only when the appropriate Foreigner Tribunal declares them as non-foreigners.
(g) Persons who can provide any one of the documents issued up to midnight of 24th March 1971 as mentioned in the list of documents admissible for citizenship.
(h) All Indian Citizens including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post 24th March 1971 would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on 24th March 1971.
(j) All members of the Tea Tribes shall be covered under ‘Original inhabitants of Assam’ category provided for under Clause 3(3) of the Schedule of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
(k) All such original inhabitants shall be included on the basis of proof to the satisfaction of the Registering Authority. On the establishment of the citizenship of such persons beyond a reasonable doubt, their names shall be in the updated NRC.
(l) All Indian Citizens including their children and descendants who have moved to Assam post 24th March 1971 would be eligible for inclusion in the updated NRC on adducing satisfactory proof of residence in any part of the country (outside Assam) as on 24th March 1971.
(m) All the members of the Tea Tribes shall be covered under ‘Original inhabitants of Assam’ category provided for under Clause 3(3) of the Schedule of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
(n) All such original inhabitants shall be included on the basis of proof to the satisfaction of the Registering Authority. On the establishment of the citizenship of such persons beyond a reasonable doubt, their names shall be in the updated NRC.
- The main challenges to the publication of the final NRC list are:-
(a) What happens to the people who do not figure in the list? They are technically illegal immigrants.
(b) India does not have deportation treaty with Bangladesh and hence deporting them to Bangladesh is going to be a mammoth challenge.
(c) The immigrants declared illegal are fleeing to other states and this is now snowballing into a major problem in other states of the country.
(d) It is not clear whether this 40 lakh personnel (who did not make it to the draft list)will be eligible to vote in the 2019 National election. It has been left to The Election Commission to decide.
- The NRC issue is sensitive and delicate since it involves the lives of human beings and their very existence and identity. However, the shifting demographic balance due to this influx is having a definite impact on the local cultural traditions and customs and needs to be preserved and protected. The challenge lies in deft handling to resolve the problem without diluting Indian Culture and humane treatment of the Illegal immigrants.