The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is emerging as quite the artful dodger. In yet another example of skillfully skirting a key issue by offering irrelevant information, the Minister of State in the MHA, Nityanad Rai not only blamed all delays squarely on the Covid-19 pandemic, he also attempted to completely avoid answering pointed questions about notification of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was published in Assam on August 31, 2019 by the Registrar General of India (RGI). This final NRC had excluded a whopping 19,06,657 people.
During the Monsoon Session of the Lok Sabha, Member of Parliament(MP) Abdul Khaleque asked a series of questions specifically about the role and actions of the Office of the RGI with respect to the NRC. The questions may be viewed here:
In the written response submitted before the LS on July 27, 2021 by the MHA, the questions related to RGI notifications have been responded to with outdated and irrelevant information. The statement says, “A total of nine Gazette Notifications, the last being on 31.7.2019, have been published by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner.”
It is important to point out that the final NRC was published on August 31, 2019. Therefore by the MHA’s own admission, no notification was passed by the RGI after July 31, 2019… a month before the final NRC was published. Thus, it confirms that the RGI has not notified the final NRC so far. This even as the Assam state government is using a two-pronged approach of demanding additional verification and completely rejecting the final NRC to derail the entire process.
The MHA further submitted that several communications and instructions have been sent to the State Coordinator of National Register of Citizens (NRC), Assam for complying with the orders of Supreme Court with regard to disposal of claims and objections, publication of lists of inclusions and exclusions in NRC, etc. But these matters all deal with processes preceding the publication of the list, as the Claims and Objections process took place in the period between publication of the draft NRC in July 2018 and the final NRC in August 2019.
The response does not shed light on directions issued post the publication of the final NRC specifically w.r.t “winding up of processes” as the response only mentions “pending works”, a rather vague term. Moreover, all of this is rather moot given how the NRC is yet to be notified. This makes one wonder if the MHA and the RGI have, just like the Assam government, chosen to ignore the entire mammoth and expensive NRC process.
On the pointed subject of directions on issuance of Rejection Slips and delays in the process, the official response says, “Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and flood situation, the process of issuing rejection slips has been postponed.”
The issuance of Rejection Slips that contain the reason for rejection as mentioned in the speaking orders passed by the Claims officer, is vital for those who have been excluded from the final NRC and now need to defend their citizenship before the Foreigners’ Tribunals. Once a rejection slip is handed over, the excluded person has only 120 days to file an appeal before a Foreigners Tribunal. But as these Rejection Slips have still not been issued, the 19 lakh applicants who have been left out of the NRC, have not been able to file appeals before the FT.
During the Budget Session of the Parliament earlier this year, the Minister on February 9, 2021, had provided the same reason that Covid-19 and floods had postponed the process of issuing rejection slips. This is detrimental to all excluded people who are prevented from taking any judicial recourse in the matter.
Other systemic problems
SabrangIndia’s sister organisation, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has dedicated itself to helping our fellow Indians defend their citizenship in Assam. CJP has not only helped secure the release of 41 people from detention camps on conditional bail, it has also distributed food rations to some of the detainees. When it comes to the follow up to the NRC process, CJP also moved the Gauhati High Court this year, seeking directions to the state to formulate effective and robust modalities for legal aid for people who will now be required to defend their citizenship before Foreigners’ Tribunals. CJP has raised concerns about the absence of trained lawyers and paralegals at legal aid centres that the government insists will be able to adequately assist these people.
CJP had also conducted an independent survey in 10 districts of Assam to assess the preparedness of District Legal Services Authorities (DSLA) which revealed glaring lacunae in terms of both infrastructure as well as trained personnel. We found that the front offices were either not present at these DLSA centers or did not have adequate space or staff to handle the veritable deluge of applicants. It was also revealed that in none of the ten legal services authorities, were the personnel trained on Citizenship, NRC, Immigration or the Foreigners Act, all of which are germane to the impending situation of people having to appeal before the Foreigners’ Tribunal to prove their citizenship. It also revealed that only 10 citizenship related cases were handled by the counsel of these DSLA, all by Dhubri DLSA: 7 in 2019, and 3 in 2020.
SabrangIndia had previously reported that on February 2, 2021, in response to a series of questions raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) Abdul Khaleque and Pradyut Bordoloi from Assam, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) gave a series of boiler-plate responses and non-answers. Khaleque and Bordoloi had raised questions about details of the Clause 6 Committee, its functioning, its recommendations and steps that had been taken to implement said recommendations. But in response, the government did a basic “copy-paste” job from the Assam Government website: assamaccord.assam.gov.in
It not only reproduced contents of clauses 6 and 7, it also copy-pasted measures taken way back in 1989 in response to a question about implementation of committee recommendations.
When we take all of this into consideration, and add to it the compulsive gaslighting techniques of the MHA by way of giving bland, boiler-plate responses or often non-answers, the image that appears is one of apathy.
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