Cost of defending citizenship post NRC north of Rs 11,000 crores!

Guwahati, 5 September, 2019: Even as the government, both at the centre and in the state of Assam, goes into an overdrive claiming that there is nothing to be worried if someone’s name was excluded from the final NRC published on August 31, 2019, the true cost of the exercise to be undertaken in its aftermath has emerged and it is prohibitively expensive!

People who have been excluded from the NRC will now have to defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals (FT) in Assam. But back of the envelop calculations place the cost of this exercise at a whopping Rs 11,439.94 crore for a total of 19,06,657 excluded persons. The estimated amount is only for the expenditure to be paid for lawyer’s fees and the cost relating to appearance before FTs. This does not include costs related to collection of documents or subsequent costs for appeals before higher courts.
How we arrived at this figure
As per advocates and people related to FTs, each and every person excluded from NRC must pay an amount of at least Rs 30,000/- to advocates to fight their cases in the FT. An additional Rs 30,000/- is spent on travel, communication and arranging for witnesses to appear before FTs. In this way, at least Rs 60,000/- is spent by every person on FT cases to prove them to be Indian. In this way, for 19,06,657 people excluded from NRC, the expenditure comes to at least Rs 57,19,97,10,000/- as advocate’s fees and Rs 57.19,97,10,000/-  for expenditure on communication and travel for FT appearance for victims, their family members and witnesses. It means Rs 11,439,94,20,000/- will be the minimum expenditure to be borne by the 19,06,657 people excluded from the final NRC.
People dropped from final NRC must go to FTs either of their own or on the basis of reference made by District Magistrate. It is noteworthy that a large chunk of people excluded from NRC are daily wage earners who live hand to mouth. Many of them are illiterate or not educated enough to understand the complexity of documents required to fight their case. In the past, many people appearing before FTs have bee cheated by middlemen and even unscrupulous lawyers. As a result of this, many of them have been declared foreigners, often in their absence. These people had paid huge amounts of money selling their meager property, land and animals.
For example, take the case of Subrata Dey of Ashudubi village that falls under Krishnai Police Station of Goalpara District in Lower Assam. Dey died in Goalpara detention camp in May, 2018. As per his mother Anima, “We had to spend about one lakh rupees as lawyer’s fees and additional expenses to fight my son’s case in the FT. After Subrata was declared foreigner and sent to a detention camp, we sold our domestic cattle and some other property and gathered two lakhs of rupees, which we gave to an advocate to fight the case in the High Court. But the case did not come up even in two years till Subrata’s death!”
Similarly, in Rawta Bagan area of Udalguri district, Jobbar Ali had paid Rs. 50,000/- to an advocate to fight his case in the FT. When he was declared foreigner and thrown into Tezpur detention camp, his family members took a loan of Rs. 1,00,000/- and paid it to an eminent advocate of Gauhati High Court hoping to have Jobbar released. But Jobbar spent two years in detention camp and died there, and it appears that the self-styled humanitarian advocate of minority rights who had taken his case, did nothing to cause the case to proceed in Gauhati High Court. Likewise, Amrit Das of Barpeta Road, died in detention camp after spending Rs 60,000/- for his FT case and nother Rs 60,000/- for his case before the Gauhati HC.
In another instance, Sahar Ali, resident of Farmaishali village of Chirang District, paid Rs 50,000/- to an advocate and spend another Rs 30,000/- for attending regular hearings at the FT for three years and was declared streamline (a person who supposed to come into Indian territory in between 1966 and 1971) Indian, though his name was in 1951 NRC and 1971 voter’s list. As a streamline Indian he is lucky enough that his name has been registered with Foreigner’s Regional Registration Office (FRRO) by his advocate without his knowledge. But Rabindra Mallik of village Oxiguri, under same district was declared streamline foreigner in 1999, but his name was not registered with FRRO. Due to this reason, Rabindra Mallik was detained and thrown into the Goalpara detention camp where he has been lodged since 21st September, 2016.  As per family members of Rabindra Mallik, they too paid Rs 60,000/- to a lawyer in FT and another Rs 1,50,000/- for the HC case to a lawyer.
Is non-appearance before FT an option?
Meanwhile, some organisations including All Assam Gorkha Student’s Union (AAGSU) has clarified that no Gorkha people exluded from NRC will submit appeal before FTs as Gorkhas are not foreigners in any part of India as per Indo-Nepal Friendship agreement, 1950. The
All Assam Bengali Youth Student’s Federation (AABYSF) is of the same opinion as per some enthusiastic statements made by present ruling party BJP and its ideologue RSS. The leaders of BJP and RSS are making public statements that India is the natural home of Hindus and such no Hindu is foreigner in India. A group AABYSF and some other Bengali organisation, citing the statement of present ruling party BJP and RSS are frequently making public statement that Bengali Hindus are not foreigners in India and thus no Bengali Hindu will submit appeal before FTs to prove his or her citizenship.
However, both the organisation are keeping mum on some key questions, such as:

  • If someone from Gorkha or Bengali Hindu community does not submit their appeal before FTs, will the District Magistrate will submit the reference?
  •  Will they ensure that no reference case will by submitted against any Gorkha or Bengali Hindu, who are excluded from NRC?
  •         If the reference cases are made under Foreigners Tribunal against such NRC excluded person, if he or she does not appear in Foreigners Tribunal, will they be declared as foreigners through ex-parte judgements?

Prominent thinker Dr Jyotirmoy Jana says, “It will be suicidal for the Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims to refrain from appearing at Foreigners Tribunals to prove their citizenship. I have heard that some thoughtless forces are instigating the Bengali Hindus to stay away from Foreigners Tribunals and get Indian Citizenship through some parliamentary legislature. Those who are advising Bengali Hindus to do so are underestimating the power of the chauvinist forces, which created blood-bath several times in the past. The Muslims should also keep in mind the escalating strength of communal and chauvinist forces. I, therefore, appeal to all sections of NRC victims to cooperate with the upcoming appeal procedure in Foreigner’s Tribunal.” 
In this situation, ignoring the instigation from groups with vested interests, each and every person excluded from NRC is preparing for the upcoming foreigners tribunal. But, the monetary matter has become a big trouble for such people.
CJP’s Initiative:
Since the final list of NRC published on 31st August, 2019, the Assam Chapter of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which is extending continuous help to distressed people, is trying find out some way so that each and every person excluded from final NRC can defend their citizenship before the FT. In this noble endeavour, CJP has approached and received support from many local lawyers who have agreed to extend a helping hand at minimum cost. CJP has also trained over 100 of its community volunteers and volunteer motivators as paralegals, so that they can assist these hapless and unlettered people in FTs. We plan to conduct many more such paralegal training sessions across the state and help as many people as we possibly can.



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