Missed NRC Claim Filing Deadline? Now face Foreigners' Tribunal Cases!

Written by Zamser Ali | Published on: May 18, 2019
Guwahati, 17th May: About 3.8 lakhs of people, who failed to submit claim applications for inclusion of names in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) before the December 31 deadline will now face to face trial in the 100 Foreigners' Tribunals across the state of Assam. FTs are quasi judicial authorities where people who are suspected to be foreigners or doubtful voters have to prove that they are indeed Indian citizens failing which they are lodged in Detention Camps. In a cruel twist of fate, unlike other trials where even murderers and dacoits are presumed innocent until proven guilty, in an FT case the burden of proof lies on the proceedee i.e the person whose citizenship is being questioned.

The process for updating NRC or National Register of Citizens began in Assam in 2014. It was to settle the long standing dispute about the presence of 'foreigners' in the state. All together 3.29 crore of people applied for inclusion of their names, out of which 2.89 crore names were included in the final draft NRC that was published on 31st July, 2018. In that stage, 40,07,707 people were dropped from the final draft NRC of which 36.2 lakh people submitted their reclaim applications within the stimulated period of 15th September to 31st December of 2019. Thus it appears that about 3.8 lakh people could not submit the claim applications within the deadline.Now, these people will have to face foreigners cases immediately. 
The Assam state Home Department is reportedly seeking detailed reports from Prateek Hajela, the State Co-ordinator, NRC, Assam about the people who failed to meet the deadline. Speaking to a local media, Ashutosh Agnihotri, the Commissioner Secretary, Home, Government of Assam said, "The Home Department, Government of Assam, has sent a letter to Prateek Hajela, the State Coordinator for updating NRC asking for the details of those people who didn't submit Claim Applications after their names were dropped from the final draft NRC that was published in July 31 last year. These might have failed to submit the reclaim applications as they might not have any valid documents of their citizenship. The Border Police under Department of Home, Government of Assam will lodge foreigners cases against each and every person who failed to submit claim applications for NRC. We are just waiting till the details. Once the list and addresses of such people arrives, it will be sent to Border Police who will then refer such people to the Foreigners' Tribunal, so that the foreigners cases can be started at the earliest."

It is alleged that the administration did not do enough to effectively educate people about the Claims process and many were forced to undergo undue harassment at the time of submitting Claim applications. The same administration is now active in taking legal action against these people. Presently, Assam has 1.25 lakh declared foreigners, a vast majority of whom are allegedly victims of ex-parte judgement. At the same time, a large number of cases are pending before these tribunals. As, lakhs of such cases will come up just after publication of final NRC, the Government of Assam have proposed to establish 1000 new FTs in the state to dealt with the upcoming cases. 

Who are the target?
It is believed that the people who are likely to be worst affected by this are those to belong to the Bengali speaking community, both Hindus and Muslims. Even among Muslims the affected families could be indigenous Muslims, who don't have any history of migration. Some could also be Bengali Muslims who became residents due to redrawing of district and state borders due to partition of Bengal during British times, partition during independence or those who were fleeing a war torn East Bengal but came before March 25, 1971. 
Speaking to Sabrang India, Karimganj based Advocate and activist Sishir Sen expresses his apprehension saying, "All Bengalis cutting cross their religious lines, all Muslims cutting cross their linguistic lines are main target of the biased and doubtful NRC. No one will be spared." On the other hand Advocate Shaiizuddin Ahmed of Gauhati High Court, who is also member of State legal team of CJP fears that it isn't just Bengali speaking Hindu and Muslims who will be affected. He said, "Not only the Muslims or Bengali people, but many other Indian people will be affected if Government of Assam starts foreigners cases against the people who didn't submit claim applications. Bengali cutting cross their religious lines, Muslims cutting cross their ethnic lines have submitted maximum number of reclaim applications. Very few of these people did not submit their applications mainly due to ignorance, confusion or illiteracy. But, other Indians, who submitted their applications in huge numbers during initial period, had lost their faith in updating NRC due to endless harassment for collection, compilation of proper documents and attending repeated hearings. Though, they were relieved from submitting further documents during submission of claim applications, they felt they couldn't rely upon NRC authority. As, they are not a targeted group of people as Bangladeshi and they have some other states to take shelter, they avoided to submit claim applications in huge numbers. These groups of people will be mostly affected if the government of Assam takes any initiative to lodge foreigners cases against the people who didn't submitted claim applications for NRC."