Analysis: Plea regarding delimitation exercise in Assam

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Recently, on a plea moved by the All India United Democratic Fund (AIUDF), a three-judge bench comprising of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, R. Subhash Reddy and AS Bopanna issued notice to both the state of Assam and the Central government and has directed the latter to file a reply in the matter. The plea moved by AIUDF has challenged the proposed delimitation exercise ordered by the Central Government to be conducted for the State of Assam, after a Presidential Notification to that effect. Before getting into the specifics of the issue vis-à-vis the State of Assam and this decision of the Centre to order delimitation; it is imperative to understand the underlying legal and technical framework which have led to the present issue.

What is Delimitation?

Delimitation, simply put, is an exercise of routine nature which is done by various countries to reflect the changes in population in representational politics. By gauging the population figures, the countries redraw the territorial limits to electoral constituencies such that equal representation is provided to all sections of the population. The end result which it seeks to achieve is the equalising of electorate per seat and to give meaning to the “One Vote, One Value” principle, which is sanctimonious to a democratic and representative form of Government. It also helps to diversify the voter base, thereby ensuring that one political party does not acquire an unfair advantage over others by securing a specific “vote bank”.

In India, the power to order such a delimitation exercise is derived from some provisions of the Constitution itself. Article 82 of the Constitution bestows the power to readjust allocation of seats to the House of People and to alter territorial constituencies after each national Census, on the Parliament. This Article also grants the Parliament power to enact a law which prescribes the manner in which the exercise is to be carried out. This law takes the form of a “Delimitation Act”. Similarly, Article 170 provides for the division of States into territorial constituencies for the purpose of the election to the State Legislative Assemblies with reference to the population as ascertained by the national census.

Consequent to the power provided under the Constitution, India has conducted delimitation exercise four times, namely in the years 1952, 1963, 1973 and 2002. For every decade after the independence, except for the 1980s and 1990s, a Delimitation Act was brought into force to carry out the exercise of delimitation, after the conclusion of the National Census. The last Act was enacted in 2002, to carry out the delimitation exercise following the 2001 census. Further, Parliament by the 84th Amendment Act, has stayed the conduction of such delimitation exercise again, until after the publication of the first census held after the year 2026. The delimitation was last held before the 2009 General Elections.

The Stoppage and Resumption of Delimitation Exercise

Prior to the commencement of the delimitation exercise in 2008, the Central Government by way of an ordinance provided the President of India the power to issue an order to defer delimitation exercise in a State. The power could be exercised if the President was satisfied that a situation has arisen, which threatens the unity and integrity of India and can lead to a collapse of public order. The power was provided by making necessary amendments under the Delimitation Act, 2002. By utilising the powers under this Amendment [Section 10A (1)], the President of India issued an order on 8th February 2008, suspending the delimitation exercise for the States of J&K, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur and Nagaland. A Delimitation Order was also issued after the completion of the exercise in 2008.

What brought the Assam delimitation issue to light and led to the filing of a plea, is the presidential order on 28th February 2020. The notification [S.O. 903(E)] cancelled the previous notification of 2008, which had temporarily halted the exercise in the State of Assam. The notification reads that due to improvement in security, law and order, it will be feasible to conduct the exercise as envisaged under the Delimitation Act of 2002. Subsequently, the Centre notified the constitution of a Delimitation Commission on 7th March 2020 with Justice (Retd.) Ranjana Prakash Desai as the Chairperson.

Claims and Counter Claims: The Assam Debate

The announcement of the resumption of delimitation exercise in Assam sparked up major controversy with contesting opinions from various social organisations and political groups. There are numerous contentions being raised by the opponents of this move.

It is being argued that the conduction of the exercise is proposed to be done with reference to the 2001 census figures. It is being argued that using 20 years old data will be prejudicial and will go against the intention with which the exercise is conducted in the first place. Using of the 2001 data will exclude recent changes to population and will not provide a perfect representation. Further, the suspension of the exercise in 2008 was done citing the pendency of the National Register of Citizens (hereinafter referred to as “NRC”) exercise. The Petitioners (and other opponents) claim that as the NRC exercise is still pending and is subject to revision, the delimitation exercise will lead to unjust inclusion and exclusion and will further complicate matters.

Another claim challenges the satisfaction of the President, regarding the law and order situation in the State. The Citizenship Amendment Act, coupled with the yet-to-be-formulated nationwide NRC saw widespread protests across the state of Assam, and a situation of unrest persists in areas of the indigenous population. Therefore, the opponents claim that the law and order situation is unfeasible to conduct the exercise.

Apart from the legal battle, opponents have also levelled allegations against the political intentions of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power both in the State and at the Centre. Many, including the Petitioner, AIUDF, claim that the delimitation exercise is a ploy by BJP to restrict the increase in Muslim population in recent years, caused due to immigration. The BJP being a Hindu-nationalist political group, does not gain many votes from the Muslim population, and a delimitation accounting for their increase in numbers will hamper future prospects for BJP.

The opponents, have accordingly, requested for putting a halt on the delimitation exercise. They have suggested that preparation of the 2021 Census is underway and fresh figures should be used,  to provide an accurate representation of the actual demographic of the area.

However, the ruling party has backed the successful conduction of delimitation exercise in the State of Assam on the grounds of looking after interests of the State’s indigenous population. Various BJP leaders have expressed fears of a demographical shift in Assam owing to unchecked immigration into the State. The BJP government has placed reliance on Clause 6 of Assam Accord, which promised protection to the native population of Assam by way of constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, but has remained unfulfilled till date.

Conclusion

As the matter is sub-judice, and a reply is yet to be filed by the Centre, giving weight to arguments on one side would be unfair. In due course, with the Supreme Court having issued a notice in the case, will rule on its merits, and decide the fate of delimitation exercise in the State of Assam. The resumption of exercise has also raised concerns regarding the future and the status of the next exercise, scheduled to be conducted sometime after the publication of the 1931 census. It is important to note that the same bench of Supreme Court had also issued a notice to the Centre and the State Government on a similar plea on 28th May 2020. Now, both the pleas have been tagged together, and the bench will hear them together. The decision of the Supreme Court could also have a bearing on the delimitation exercise, of not just Assam, but for other States as well. Therefore, it will be imperative to give a judgement which balances the rights of different population groups and does not unfairly advantage one over the other.

Author: Anshum Agarwal from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), Kolkata.

Editor: Astha Garg, Junior Editor, Lexlife India

Clause 6 in Assam accord

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement that was signed on August 15, 1985. It was signed by the Central Government, the Government of Assam, and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) and was the result of a six-year-long agitation that was launched by AASU. The agitation was due to the apprehensions of the natives of the state regarding the continuing influx of foreign nationals into Assam and the fear about adverse effects upon the political, social, cultural and economic life of the State.

The Union Cabinet has set up a high-level committee on 16th July 2019 to look into measures for the implementation of clause 6 of the Assam Accord of 1985. The committee was headed by retired Justice Biplab Sharma and consisted of state government ministers, top officials of the state government and members of the AASU.

The committee gave recommendations and measures to implement Clause 6 of the Accord. The high-level committee submitted its report to the Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonawali, on 25th February 2020. The Assam government will subsequently send the report to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further action. The three communities wary of implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord are the Bengal-origin or Bengali speaking Muslims referred to as Miyas, Bengali Hindus and Gurkhas.

What is the said clause?

Clause 6 of the Assam Accord talks about the safeguards that would be provided in the form of constitutional, legislative and administrative measures for the protection, preservation, and promotion of the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the native Assamese people. This clause provides safeguards specifically for people who were recognized as “Assamese people”. People who entered the state before 1st January 1966 were to be regularised. People who entered after 1st January 1966 but before 24th January 1971 were to be detected according to the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964. The Accord had set 24th March 1971 as the date for the recognition of citizens. People who entered the state after the said date were liable to be detected, deleted and expelled following the law.

Why/how was it introduced?

The Assam Accord was signed between the representatives of the Government of India, the Government of Assam and the leaders of the Assam Movement in New Delhi on 15th August 1985. The Memorandum of Settlement was a result of a six-year-long agitation, initiated by AASU in 1979, demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. The accord prescribes the deportation of anyone who entered the state illegally after midnight of March 24, 1971. The Assam Accord brought about the culmination of a phase of great unrest and anxiety in the modern history of Assam. The agitation was mostly spearheaded by the student youth of Assam who saw a direct threat to their future caused due to the heavy and unchecked influx of foreigners from the neighboring countries into the state.

Why is it a cause of concern for the communities?

The three communities namely, the Miyas, Bengali Hindus and Gurkhas are concerned with the recommendations said to be given by the committee. The committee recommended setting the cut off date as 1951 for extending constitutional benefits to the indigenous people of Assam, introducing the Inner Line Permit system in the entire state and reservation of seats for the indigenous people in different elected bodies.

These communities feel that they should not be excluded from the list of indigenous communities of Assam. The Miyas have claimed that the Assamese population would become a minority if they Miyas are not regarded as indigenous. The Gurkhas have said that they should be regarded as an indigenous community to protect their constitutional and land rights. The Bengali Hindus have also said that many of them have been residing in Assam since before the March 1971 cut-off date and deserve to be included as indigenous. It has been said by these communities that if the base year is set as 1951 instead of 1971 then many of the Bengalis in Assam will have to suffer gross injustice as they migrated to Assam only after 1951 due to which they will not have any safeguards under clause 6 of the Assam Accord.

Critical analysis

The lack of consensus in the definition of “Assamese people” or “indigenous people” as mentioned in clause 6 of the Assam Accord, threatens to exclude a majority of the Assamese population from the safeguards that are to be provided under the said provision. If the proposed date of 1951 is accepted as the cut-off date, it would mean that the people who migrated to Assam between 1951 and 1971 will be accepted as Indian citizens but they will not be eligible for the constitutional, administrative and legislative safeguards under clause 6 of the Accord.

It is also important to look at clause 6 of the Assam Accord in the context of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. A National Register of Citizens was to be prepared in the year 1951 which was finally introduced in 2019. But the basis for giving citizenship under the amended act is religious persecution to all non-Muslim immigrants.

The Act of 2019 has also shifted the cut-off date for granting citizenship from 24th March 1971 to 31st December 2014. This will be a hindrance to the effective implementation of clause 6 of the Assam Accord as it is violative of the same. By pushing the date from 1971 to 2014, it will only result in more immigrants being included for naturalization which will be a huge setback to the objective sought in the Assam Accord and specifically in clause 6.

How can the issue be resolved?

This problem can be resolved by regarding the original cut-off date of 1971 as the base year. There needs to be a proper definition to determine who falls under the ambit of “Assamese people” or” indigenous people”. The Centre should also take positive steps in making separate provisions for the state of Assam so that the objective of the Assam Accord does not get diluted in the backdrop of the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

Conclusion

It is imperative to recognize the urgency of the situation and to come up with suitable measures to provide safeguard measures to the indigenous people of Assam. This will prevent a repeat of the widespread agitation that took place in the state in the 70s. The Central, as well as state government, should come together to find an equitable solution by including all the stakeholders who will be significantly affected by the implementation of the Assam Accord.

Author: Sahana Priya Satish from Tamil Nadu National Law University.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala

Detention centres in Assam (NRC)

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

Assam has been one of the epicentres in regards to the on-going protests. The NRC (National Register of Citizens) has certainly put people in a state of constant fear of being declared as a non-resident or an illegal immigrant. The affected persons are being classified as “non- registered citizens” as per the NRC.

The remedial measure that has been taken by the government is to put these non-residents to the detention centres established by the government for the sake of these people. It is also evident to note that the Prime Minister in a recent rally denied the existence of any detention centres in India. At present, there are 6 active detention centres in Assam.

These detention centres have all the basic facilities required for survival and a decent living such as medical and educational facilities. A large number of people have been shifted there already. But, as per the reports, as many as 28 deaths have been recorded in these camps which put a question mark on the administration of these detention centres as well as the condition of the people currently in detention.

The reason put forward by various authorities suggests that these deaths are mainly due to mental reasons and not because of any ill-treatment or lack of appropriate facilities. The mental pressure on these detainees is significant as no paroles are provided. The people are separated from their families and could not work.

The immigration problem in Assam can be traced back to four decades, where the deemed immigrants are dispatched and it has been suspected by most that they are forced to live in inhumane conditions.

Legality of detention centres

The camps for illegal immigrants have been the most discussed upon matter nowadays and have taken a form of a crucial political debate as the opposition parties and the ruling party or the government are exchanging different views regarding the same. The current government is under a lot of pressure as plans for setting up of detention centres around the country in view of a nation-wide NRC has been pertinently opposed by different lawmakers.

The camps in Assam were already established much before the recent NRC, so as to combat the situation of illegal immigrants in the state which posed a threat to the demographic and cultural uniqueness of Assam. The first detention centre was set up after the Union Government authorized the state of Assam to commence with the establishment under the provisions of Section-3(2) (e) of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Para- 11(2) of the Foreigners Order, 1948.

These camps in particular came into light after as many as 19 lakh people were identified who were not in possession of proper citizenship documents and hence, were to be allocated in these centres.

Fundamental and Human Rights violation

Many citizens are now the victim of NRC. On one hand, the government’s initiative to identify the illegal immigrants is justified on the grounds that it has become necessary to take some concrete actions against these immigrants and on the other hand, there is a constant unrest amongst the citizens so as to ensure their citizenship.

There is a wide possibility that the immigrants came as to procure shelter as they are not able to survive and maintain a proper life in the neighbouring countries. Detaining these immigrants in these camps has been observed by many as a direct violation to the Fundamental Rights such as Article-14 (Equality before Law), Article-21 (Right to Personal Liberty), etc.

The detention is in contravention of the basic human rights that are enjoyed by everyone. The question of Fundamental Rights can pose a serious problem as these rights are for the citizens of India, but certain extent of protection is also provided to the foreigners. The rights may not be enforceable, but a certain duty is upon the government to properly look after the immigrants as India is a welfare state.

If the reports are true about the conditions of these detention camps, then a proper probe in to the matter is required so as to protect the interests of the people detained in these camps. No person should be subjected to any kind of unjust treatment, whether he/she is a citizen or not.

Fate of non-citizens:

The fate of the non-declared citizens is hanging by a thread as the countries from which they have originated is not willing to take them back. The only option with the people is to trust the government and duly accept the treatment as prescribed by it.

The government is working hard to properly colonize the detainees and create a decent process of accommodation for them. The present scenarios dictates that these citizens won’t be deported or jailed, but will be put in detention camps. The people are provided a chance to be heard and to provide for alternate documents or evidences regarding their citizenship. All the non- registered citizens are not illegal immigrants, rather they are to be treated as undocumented individuals, who for the time being are not able to prove their citizenship.

A further and more comprehensive filtration is a need of the hour in order to classify the illegal immigrants from legitimate Indian citizens. Individuals excluded from the list can appeal to the specially formed tribunals called Foreign Tribunals.

This further means that, the process for disposing off cases will become more cumbersome as the courts and tribunals will be overburdened with these types of cases. The major problem that has surfaced regarding these newly formed tribunals is the reports of bias attitude and inconsistencies.

Conclusion

The NRC is a very unprecedented piece of legislation that has seen immense protests from all parts of India. The opposing views are not only limited to India, but has also attracted undue attention of international bodies.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 may be witnessed as a classic defence to dodge the aftermath of Assam’s NRC as it provides for the citizenship to illegal immigrants, but on certain conditions.

The political outlook in the country is definitely experiencing some variations as no definite plan for the treatment of these undocumented individuals can be taken up.

It is pertinent to note that no clarity has been provided in respect of these citizens as whether they will be eligible for welfare schemes or government subsidies or be allowed to own a property. One thing is definite from the present conditions, that the citizens in question won’t be able to register themselves as eligible voters.

There is a major possibility that once the detainees are released, they may be provided with a work permit. The fear of being trapped in a legal limbo is just one of the many problems faced by these individuals as it is a long way ahead, not just to provide evidences or appropriate records, but also to establish themselves as a citizen of India.

Author: Jatin Budhiraja from Amity Law School, Noida.

Editor: Farsana Sadiq from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.

Analysis: NRC in Assam

Reading time: 4-5 minutes.

A severe humanitarian problem rooted in the North-eastern state Assam emerged in the form of National Registry of Citizens of India. The NRC is the list of Indian citizens in Assam that was first prepared in 1951 following the Census of 1951 conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act.

The list has now been updated for the first time since then to identify the illegal immigrants in Assam. This issue embarks the sovereignty of this nation and amalgamates it with humanitarian crisis. The Final  National Register of Citizens (NRC) which was published on 31st August 2019, left out more than 19 lakh applicants out of the 3.29 crore individuals who applied for inclusion of names in NRC in Assam.

This exercise was carried out and monitored by the Supreme Court of India for a prolonged period of five years. The purpose of this exercise was to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh. The NRC updating process in Assam is governed by Rule 4A and the corresponding Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. These rules have been framed as per the cut-off date of Midnight of 24th March 1971 decided as per Assam Accord.

What came out as the consequences of NRC? And what are the possible future actions associated with them?

Many stories of individuals from Assam in relation to the NRC have come out and persistently form a pile of ramifications of this Final NRC draft over the due course of time, with no resolution in the future. The individuals who have been left out of this draft have a right to proceed with an appeal in the Foreigners’ Tribunal within 120 days from the release of the draft.

From a logistics standpoint, deportation of excluded individuals to Bangladesh not being an available option, the hindsight of holding multiple thousands of individuals in detention centres for years seems unreasonably difficult to manage for any administration personnel. Nevertheless, in order to accommodate the excluded individuals, detention camps have been set out across the State of Assam at places like Goalpara, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar and Tezpur. These camps are nothing, but district jails labelled as detention camps.

There was a government notification in Assam on the basis of Supreme Court Order on Indian Citizenship Act, 1955 that births up to December 3, 2004 were eligible to be a citizen of India where either of the parents holds Indian citizenship. However, the children born after 3 December 2004 would not be eligible to be included in the NRC if either parent is declared as a doubtful voter, declared foreigner or a person with his case pending in the Foreigner’s Tribunal. This would leave out the children those who were born in the last 15 years and whose either of the parent’s citizenship is in the doubt or declared void.

What can be the further implications of NRC?

The discussion so far has been limited to the state of Assam, but the advocates of NRC propose to carry out the same exercise throughout India, with suggestions of “Kashmir” being the most outright and the other states being proposed were West Bengal and Kerala. The dilemma of NRC has popped up at the moment when the world faces a major crisis of immigration throughout from Europe to the United States of America. The US is facing similar crisis from the Mexican border and Europe Union gathering the same from the Mediterranean region.

What solutions can be resorted to curb the threat of this humanitarian crisis?

The need of the hour is to come up with solutions for the same, more so, long-term solutions rather than momentary solutions. An article by Head of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Sanjeev Tripathi provides for certain suggestions such as a Bilateral Agreement between India and Bangladesh which would involve return of nationals of Bangladesh who have illegally entered India after verification.

In addition to the same he also urges legislators to come up with a refugee law that shall draw distinction between refugees and illegal immigrants and in turn provide for a clear definition to the same. To extend the scope of the said solution a mechanism of incentivization shall be enforced and subsequently a counteracting mechanism should also be brought into the system.

The incentives would be in the form of work permits, granting refugee status and permission to live and work in the period of verification. The article also highlights the forms of disincentives which as being suggested by the Head of RAW could be considered through an amendment to the Foreigners Act in the shape of penal punishment for the acts that include but are not limited to providing accommodation to a foreign national, concealment of the presence and identity and subsequent facilitation of illegal immigrant and the acts of the similar nature. 

Under the proposed bilateral assistance, financial assistance must be provided to Bangladesh in order to implement a national identity system similar to that of India’s Aadhar. The process should preferably start in the border areas. India may also consider introducing a system of keeping biometric records of Bangladeshi nationals while granting them visas to visit India, Tripathi recommends.

It is of utmost importance that the Government deliberates on this issue in consultation with the political leaders and civil society groups, for this is a question of individuals who have been rendered stateless. The action taken by the State Government has been limited to set up of multiple detention centres to house all of those who have been deemed as foreigners by the Foreigners’ Tribunal. It is still a question if the promised legal aid for appealing their exclusion will be dispensed to them impartially and effectively.

Not only have these individuals lost their voting rights but also their right to hold any land or property. The extended question is that does this exclusion also denies them the access to government welfare schemes as those relating to health and education on two levels: one for the individual who has been excluded and other for their progeny.

In conclusion…

The fear of illegal immigration has been a question in the politics of Assam. Some added fuel to the fire of fear while others created vote bases out of the same. The people who created vote bases were those who portrayed their image as a protector against these so called ‘foreigners’ often termed as ‘termites’ by Union Ministers of the current regime. However, it is time for the nation to value these individuals as human beings and not look at them merely as political subjects. One needs to evolve from the political standpoints to an inclusion-based environment that embraces humanity and social communities.

-This article is brought to you in collaboration with Vishwajeet Deshmukh from Government Law College, Mumbai.

Explained: National Register of Citizens in Assam

Reading time: 4-5 minutes.

The history of Assam can be called out as a tragic account of hard struggle of the indigenous people of Assam who have been trying their best to conserve and preserve their own identity and are still facing the fear of being reduced to only a minority in their own homeland due to the vast amount of influx from the people outside. This illegal immigration from Bangladesh have been a major problem in the state of Assam since 20th century.

The National Register of citizens or as is commonly called the NRC is a list of such Indian citizens in Assam. Assam, today is the only state that has an NRC. The NRC was first prepared in 1951 following the census. At that time, it had recorded 80 lakh citizens in the state. Since then this debate of weeding out illegal immigrants from the state has been heated and has become a contentious issue.

A PIL was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the removal of “illegal voters” from the electoral rolls of Assam and the preparation of the NRC as required under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and its rules. A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985.

What is the legal sanctity of NRC under the Indian Constitution?

There is no provision particularly dealing with this idea of NRC. But it is important here to note that whether or not a person’s name is included in the NRC or not he cannot be deprived of some of the basic fundamental rights that have been bestowed by the Indian Constitution to every person.

Article 14 guarantees the right to equality to all persons in India. It states that “[t]he State shall not deny to any person equality before law and equal protections of laws within the territory of India.” Article 20 which relates to protection in respect of conviction for offences is another provision which is available to all persons.

Article 21 states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Article 21A the right to education is another provision available to all, irrespective of whether they are a citizen or not. Article 22 is also available to ‘all persons’ as it protects against arrest and detention in certain cases. The right against exploitation Article 23 and 24 is also applicable to all persons. The right to freedom of religion does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens either.

Article 32 which establishes the Supreme Court of India as a Court of First Instance regarding the enforcement of Fundamental Rights is also available to non-citizens. Thus, even though NRC per se doesn’t derive its sanctity from the Indian Constitution but it also cannot curtail certain rights of people who are residing in Assam even though if they aren’t citizens of India.

Is NRC in violation of principles of International Law?

The move of NRC however good or bad it maybe, is still considered to be violative of some basic principles of International Law. The central government’s move to establish the NRC and deport 4 million residents of Assam also leaves India vulnerable to the charge of ethnic cleansing. There are millions of stateless people in the world and India has now added even millions more to them.

Also, that these people have lived in Assam for decades and are entirely integrated into the local community makes the Indian case stand out on the international stage for its sheer inhumanity.

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that everyone has a right to a nationality. The UN convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961, creates an international obligation to prevent statelessness and prohibits the withdrawal of nationality in situations where persons would be left stateless.

What are the implications of NRC for the people of Assam?

The work of updating and listing out of NRC in Assam has created a political storm in the state. Many people had to spend their life’s earning in legal fees, in the long process of submitting documents and challenging the various declarations of their non-citizenship with the courts.

From non-transparent “family tree verification” process, to the somewhat arbitrary rejection of the gram panchayat certificates (affecting mostly women), the process has been riddled with legal inconsistencies and errors. The family tree verification process has resulted in numerous instances of parents being on the draft list but children being left out.

The number of people affected by the rejection of panchayat residency certificates is more than 45 lakhs. The fate of lakhs of people relying on these documents remains uncertain as each person will now have to prove his or her lineage afresh.  Preparing the NRC within a deadline seemed more important than ensuring legal clarity over the claims of citizenship which should not have been the case.

What are the benefits of NRC?

There are certain limited yet important benefits of NRC. These benefits being:

  • It will lead to identification of illegal immigrants
  • Those identified illegal immigrants will be barred from voting in the Indian elections
  • With such an action the Indian government will making it stance clear for the world to know that it doesn’t support illegal immigration in any way.

 In conclusion…

Non-intervention in the migration situation in Assam is not an ideal policy stance, as it holds back not only the state but the entire region. The uncertainty of the situation hinders economic development and peace in the region which are central to achieving growth. The NRC exercise, in many ways is a necessary exercise as it creates an opportunity to reset the rules of migration.

 It not only provides an opportunity to tailor governance solutions which are more suited to the needs of an ethnically diverse state such as Assam, but also creates space for a better migration management system between Bangladesh and India given that deportation or statelessness seem unviable policy alternatives.

 Further, the solutions Indian policy makers devise for the issue of immigration can serve as a beacon for the region and can provide the necessary impetus to India’s developmental aspirations in the region. But on the other hand, it is also important to note that the process of NRC is conducted in a fair manner and not arbitrarily or carelessly because India’s approach to citizenship under this scenario would be scrutinized by the whole world.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Aprajita Jha from National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.