Even as the Assam Assembly elections are underway, with the first phase having just concluded on March 27, comes a decision that appears to be designed to generate political capital for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The issue of Rejection Slips for those excluded from the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) released on August 31, 2019 has suddenly been made a priority, after over a year of delays. It is noteworthy that the process had been put on hold due to Covid-19 related concerns, but then that doesn’t explain the resumption amidst a new surge.
The Registrar General of India (RGI) has written to the Assam Home Secretary in the matter of delay in issuing rejection slips to those excluded from the NRC. More than 19 lakh persons were excluded from the Assam NRC, after which their citizenship status has been in a limbo due to delay in issuing rejection slips which show the reason for exclusion and are based on the speaking orders issued by the officer examining Claims and Objections. This reason for exclusion is vital for going before the Foreigners Tribunal to defend one’s citizenship.
Further, the RGI has also asked the Assam government to explain its request for additional funds to carry out pending work on the NRC, while also making it clear that Rs 1,600-crore allocated for completing the exercise by March 31, cannot be increased. The state had sought a monthly allocation of Rs. 3.22 crore. The letter states that the NRC updation process was to be completed within the approved cost of the scheme by March 31, 2021 and there is “no further provision of funds for the expenditure made under the scheme beyond 31.03.2021,” reported Indian Express.
The letter further states that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had approved the revised estimates of Rs 1,602.66 crore up to December 31, 2019 with a condition that the amount would not be revised further before winding up the NRC process by March 31, 2021. The letter reiterates what was decided in the NRC Coordination Committee meeting held in January 2020 that “pending work relating to issue of rejection slip should be completed on a mission mode”.
This particular reminder comes in the light of Assam Assembly elections, voting for which has already begun and as BJP has given a commitment of a “corrected NRC” in the state. Though the NRC was a process monitored by the Supreme Court, the Assam government has vehemently refused to accept the NRC. Moreover, the Assam government has repeatedly demanded reverification despite the Supreme Court having refused the demand previously.
Interestingly, NRC co-ordinator Hitesh Sarma, in an affidavit filed before Guwahati High Court in December 2020, implied that the August 2019 NRC list which was declared as the final draft, was not, in fact, final and stated that the 2019 list was “supplementary NRC” which includes 4,700 ineligible names. “The Final NRC is yet to be published by Registrar General of India as per Clause 7 of the rules under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003,” the affidavit said.
However, in preparation for whenever this entire process could be kickstarted, by issuance of rejection slips, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), SabrangIndia’s sister organisation has already filed a petition before Guwahati High Court seeking directions to the state to formulate effective and robust modalities for legal aid in terms of having trained panels of lawyers and adequate front offices in light of the impending appeals to be filed before Foreigners Tribunals by people from marginalised sections to prove their citizenship.