The Karimganj Foreigners Tribunal, while declaring a person to be an Indian Citizen, also upheld the finality of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on August 31, 2019. The government pleader had cast aspersions on the finality of the Assam NRC and the court, while addressing the same held that there is no doubt whatsoever that the NRC released in August 2019, as monitored by the Supreme Court is final.
This is not the first time such doubts have been cast on whether the final NRC is final after all. In fact, BJP, during its campaign for Assam’s Assembly election rejected the final NRC and had promised that the party will work towards a corrected NRC. Though over 19 lakh people had been excluded from this list, the BJP-led Assam government had alleged that names of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had been included in it. Though the NRC was a process monitored by the Supreme Court, the Assam government has vehemently refused to accept the NRC.
It’s not just the politics creating an atmosphere of doubt but the office of the NRC itself has come before the apex court demanding a reverification of the NRC published on August 31, 2019 saying that due to major irregularity many names of ineligible people had made it to the list. Hitesh Dev Sarma took over from Prateek Hajela as NRC State Coordinator amidst the controversy that erupted shortly after the publication of the final NRC. He has now alleged that not only did Hajela not hand over the password of the official email ID, his computer was found to have been re-formatted and all previous data deleted.
The Electoral registration officer, Patherkandi, had suspected citizenship status of the proceedee Bikram Singha whose name was enrolled in 1997 voter list and he was deemed D-voter or Doubtful voter. The case reference was then sent to the Foreigners Tribunal in 2008 and transferred to another Tribunal in Karimganj in August 2017.
Singha appeared before the Tribunal and filed his written statement and produced evidence to support his claim of being an Indian citizen. The proceedee submitted that he was born in India in 1978 and his father served in Indian Air Force and that his father’s name is in the 1970 voters list. Further, he also stated that his name as well as names of his father’s family members has appeared in the Final National Register of Citizens (NRC) released in August 2019.
The government pleader objected to inclusion of the proceedee’s name in final NRC as being illegal due to the pendency of this case. He stated that a proceedee in a pending case before a Foreigners Tribunal was not eligible for inclusion in NRC as per the approved Standards of Procedure (SOP) of NRC Assam. He further expressed his doubts on the finality of the NRC published on August 31, 2019. He further contended that since the proceedee has not submitted any document issued prior to 1966 there is a shadow of doubt that he is a foreigner of the stream between January 1, 1966 and March 24, 1971.
The counsel for the proceedee argued that the final NRC was published under the monitoring of the Supreme Court hence there should be no doubt about its finality and that the proceedee’s name was included therein after he was found eligible based on documents. She also brought the Tribunal’s attention to the “White paper on Foreigners’ Issue” published by Home and Political Department, Assam in 2012 which states that for children born to illegal immigrants who migrated after March 1971 section 3 of the Citizenship Act applies which in turn states that a person born in India on or after January 26, 1950 and before July 1, 1987 is a citizens of India by birth irrespective of the nationality of the parents.
The court examined the documents submitted by the proceedee as evidence and observed that his father and grandfather were residents of Jamirala village is proved in the documents but there is no document to show that they were residents prior to 1966. The court also took into consideration that his father served in the Indian Air Force and observed that “the citizenship and antecedents of the father must have been verified during his induction to IAF in 1972 which may be presumed in view of depositions and evidences on record”.
Speaking about the inclusion of his name in final NRC, the court said, “Appearance of O.P.s name in FNRC, at least establishes his relationship, though not necessarily and lawfully establishes his citizenship due to pendency of this case”. The court said that the proceedee’s inclusion in the final NRC will be validated only if this case goes in his favour. However, the court also observed that the names of other persons of his family in final NRC may be conclusive proof of their citizenship.
Finality of NRC
Referring to the comments of the government pleader about the finality of the August 2019 NRC, the court observed that NRC Assam was prepared as per provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 (especially as mandated by Section 14A) and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003 and under the orders and directions of the Supreme Court. The court pointed out that the apex court had directed that NRC in Assam be prepared in a time bound manner and also fixed a time schedule and mentioned it as “finalization of final updated NRC”. The court had extended time up to August 31, 2019 for “publishing the final NRC”.
“Accordingly Final NRC, (i.e. Supplementary List of NRC together with Draft NRC) has been published on 31.08.2019 which is available online in the official website of NRC Assam wherein also it’s referred and mentioned as “Final NRC”. This legal position is still in force,” the court held. The court said that even though the National Identity Cards have not yet been issued to the citizens who have been included in the final NRC, there is no doubt that the August 2019 NRC is the final NRC of Assam.
Application of Citizenship Act
The court also reaffirmed that Section 6A deals with “persons coming to Assam from Specified Territory” and their children are not covered by the provisions of section 6A but are covered within the ambit of section 3 of the Citizenship Act 1955. Thus Section 3 of the Citizenship Act is applicable in Assam as rest of India unless and until it’s repealed, amended or struck down, but nothing of these has happened yet.
The court’s comment was in response to the government pleader’s argument that section 3 of the Citizenship Act does not apply to Assam. The court observed that even if constitutional validity of section 3(1)(a) and (b) of the Citizenship Act are challenged before the apex court, the same is valid until struck down.
The court held that the proceedee was born in 1978 while his father was still in service with IAF and hence it can be presumed that he was born in India and hence, he is an Indian citizen in terms of section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act. Further, his citizenship was also determined by the evidence that his father Bharat Chandra Singha is an India citizen by birth and through his father and hence, being his son, the proceedee is also a citizen of India.
“There is nothing adverse found on record against the O.P. so as to doubt the identity, relationship or linkage and the citizenship of the O.P.,” the court said. The court thus opined that the proceedee is an Indian citizen and not a foreigner and disposed of the reference case against him.
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