Panic grips lower Assam as thousands of re-verification notices –calling victims from as far as 400 kilometres away — are served, summoning persons to appear for hearings, overnight. Poor access and transportation has rendered these latest moves by the NRC authorities callous and brutal, apart from being in clear violation of the July 23, 2019 order of the Supreme Court that turned down the state and centre’s demand for such re-verification
A family gets ready to move hundreds of kilometres at a day’s notice, from Goroimari to Sivsagar. The human
costs are incalculable; materially it will cost the family of daily wage earners no less than Rs 15,000-20,000
Guwahati, August 4, 2019: The NRC authorities in Assam have served thousands of urgent hearing notices to hapless residents of lower Assam, even those who have already been through the tortuous process more than once. News of such large-scale notices being served have crept in from late on Saturday night, August 3. Not only is the number of such notices high but the modus operandi seems worse: the notices compel persons with entire families to travel hundreds of kilometres away to upper Assam at a day’s notice. Moreover, these directives by the NRC authority appear to be a clear violation of the Supreme Court of India directives dated July 23, 2019. At the last hearing, the state and central governments had pushed hard for such a re-verification that had been turned down by the Supreme Court. Despite this, the NRC authorities, that are supposed to function under court orders, appear to be violating the same.
On July 23, 2019, the Supreme Court of India at the last hearing in the famed ‘NRC case’, had clearly ruled that such a re-verification process by the NRC is not necessary at this point. Despite this clear-cut judicial order, the NRC authorities have served thousands of notices in lower Assam Districts, between August 3 and 4, compelling poor and hapless residents, to rush in panic to attend hearing at various places in upper Assam. Despair and desperation has gripped several districts of the state over the week-end.
In an earlier order of May 2019 in the same case, the Supreme Court had also directed the NRC authority to ensure that the hearings –whenever they are conducted– are held at suitable places so that there is no undue harassment of those compelled to attend. Clearly overriding even these earlier directives of India’s Supreme Court, the NRC authority appears to have ensured maximum harassment: compelling hapless persons from the districts of lower Assam, especially many persons from Kamrup, Barpeta and Bongaigaon to travel hundreds of kilometres away.
Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has collated a detailed such list of these re-verification notices which is in its possession. Dozens of persons from lower Assam have been directed to attend hearings in the districts of upper Assam; districts like Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivsagar, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur, which are 500-700 km far from their place of residence. Sources within the NRC, while speaking to Sabrangindia admitted that in the Chamaria Revenue Circle of Kamrup District alone a staggering number of as many as 25,400 notices were served on August 3 and 4, asking persons to attend hearings, between August 5-7, 2019 in places like Golaghat, Jorhat and Sivsagar District.The distance from Chamaria to Golaghat is about 500 km, Jorhat is 550 kms away, while Sivsagar and Dhemaji are at a distance of 630 kms and 900 kms respectively. Dates of these hearings have been fixed between August 5, 6 and 7, 2019.
A sample such notice can be seen here:
Here is a memorandum submitted by citizens locally:
Likewise, within the Goroimari revenue circle as many as 4,500 notices have been summarily issued; and in the Nagarbera revenue circle a total of 3,500 notices have been served. Other sources admitted to Sabrangindi that from the total number of notices served in Kamrup district as many as 5,000 are on legacy data users, who have been called for a ‘strict re-verification’. If this is indeed true, then a total of about 1,00,000 people of Kamrup district alone will have to face re-verification in this round alone. The source also revealed that about 25,000 people from within the Chamaria Revenue Circle and 15,000 victims from the same district but out of the Chamaria Revenue Circle will have to, in all, face such a re-verification process. Besides, 20,000 people from other parts of the State will also have to face such a re-verification in the coming three days. Though the total number of people called (through these notices) for hearing are below 1,00,000, eventually the number of persons who will be subject to re-verification could go up by ten times of the number of notices issued. This is because, while deciding the fate of one genuine Indian citizen, 10-20 number of other witnesses from her/his village need to attend the hearings! At a most modest estimate, this means that a large, large number –close to 6,00,000 residents of Assam will need to subject themselves to these re-verification hearings in the next three days alone.
Is it possible for such large numbers to suddenly and promptly travel, at two days notice to places that are –at a minimum 500 kilometres away ?
“Since last evening, while huge numbers of notices were served in various villages under the Chamaria Revenue Circle, everyone was shocked. Persons who are being summoned under this latest procedure (‘re-verification’) have already faced multiple levels of hearings before the NRC in the past eighteen months. Faced with no choice, a beleaguered and marginalised population once again geared up on Sunday to face another round of bureaucratic probing. But where are the logistical facilities to meet this deadline and travel? Chamaria, the riverine area of Brahmaputra, has no road connectivity. The villages under Chamaria Revenue Circle are home to huge numbers of people, unlettered and argrarian labour, clueless on distances that need to be traversed and transportation requirements. When many started making inquiries, they found that the hearing centres are far out of their reach. Hundreds of people came out from their home on roads, desperately looking for transportation. Until late on Sunday night, they could book only 25 buses and about 100 small cars on hire, Costs sky-rocketed and poor families prepared ro pay up Rs 15,000 to 40,000.00 (only for transport) to attend the hearing!
“Even after all these efforts, many persons could not manage to hire as many vehicles as needed ” said Anish Bhuyan, CJP Volunteer Motivator for Kamrup District said. Shajahan Ali, Zila Parishad Member of Sontoli Zila Parishad added, “People are ready to attend NRC hearings. But there is just no available transportation. I approached the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup District to request him to arrange the required vehicles so that everyone called on for hearings could actually attend. But the Deputy Commissioner asked me to speak to the Circle Officer in this regard. I even assured the Circle Officer that, if the government or NRC authority arranged the required number of vehicles, by way of official requisition, we will pay the fare of those vehicles. But all our efforts have gone in vain. The Administration has done nothing to help. Hundreds of people were ready and waiting but could not go to the hearing centres today. We have apprised Mr Debabrata Saikia, the Leader of the opposition in the Assam Legislative Assembly, of the dire situation. He has written a letter to Prateek Hajela, the State Coordinator for NRC, demanding a postponement of of the hearings till adequate arrangements are made.Sabrangindia has a copy of this letter.
The letter has also demanded that it is the responsibility of the NRC authority to arrange for vehicles for those persons who had been served with re-verification notices, especially those summoned to far-flung areas. Saikia has demanded that all precautionary measures related to the safety and security of the people attending the re-verification process, in far-off places, also be taken by the NRC Authority.
Azizur Rahman, adviser to AAMSU has demanded that the NRC authority stops this undue harassment in the name of re-verification. He told Sabrangindia that the hearings could have been conducted within the same district to avoid such harassment of the marginalised. Sukharanjan Bir, Chief Advisor of the Bharatiya Nagorikatta Adhikar Surakshya Mancha also said that the attitude of the NRC authority does not benefit any government authority in a civilised society. Demands for payment of minimum wages for the days lost for these hearings are also being made. Hemen Das, former MLA and senior leader of the CPI(M) informed Sabrangindia that in his knowledge, 450 persons have been summoned from a remote and far-flung place in the interiors for a hearing at a NRC Kendra about 600 km far from their place of residence.
There are also serious allegations that the NRC authority –instead of following the diktats of the Supreme Court –are bending to pressures from the state government and therefore harassing target groups. Rehana Sultana, a Research Scholar of Guwahati has alleged, “my family members have been called in for hearing in three separate places on the same day! We are confused about which of us should attend which hearing and at which location especially as for each hearing we need to be accompanied by witnesses! Hundreds of Assam’s genuine citizens were shocked to find themselves served with notices late on Sunday evening (August 4) summoned to attend hearings 600-700 kilometres away on Monday! Is it possible for them to attend hearings at a NRC centre which is 600 to 700 km far from their home? This is unnecessary harassment for the poor people.”
Photographs of distress and panic in Assam (August 4/5, 2019)