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Understanding NRC: What it is and if it can be implemented across the country

In Assam, the Supreme Court mandated and monitored exercise caused widespread disruption. In the state, one first had to produce documentary proof issued before March 24, 1971 – like the 1951 NRC or electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971 – to prove that one’s ancestors were residing in India before that date.

ET Online|
Updated: Dec 23, 2019, 11.05 AM IST
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The pan-India implementation of the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) is next on Amit Shah's list. The Union home minister pulled no punches when he said the exercise will weed out "all illegal infiltrators from India", a stance the BJP government has maintained since it came to power for the second time.

In Assam, the Supreme Court mandated and monitored exercise caused widespread disruption. In the state, one first had to produce documentary proof issued before March 24, 1971 – like the 1951 NRC or electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971 – to prove that one’s ancestors were residing in India before that date. The next step was producing documents for oneself to establish relationship with those ancestors. That could be a tough ask in a country with a poor documentation culture and crores of people with meagre financial resources.

How did Assam do it?
In Assam, one had to apply for inclusion. Whether or not will there be a similar option for a nationwide exercise, it's not yet clear. There's also no clarity on how documents will be processed for residents of different states, and what those documents will be, or if there will be a common set of guidelines for all of India.

The NRC update was a mammoth exercise involving over 52,000 state Government officials working for a prolonged period. Hundreds of NRC Seva Kendras (NSKs) were set up to process the documents under the apex court's watch. An applicant had to pick any one of the documents under two heads — list A and list B. The 14 documents in List A included:

1. 1951 NRC
2. Electoral roll(s) up to 24 March (midnight), 1971
3. Land and tenancy records
4. Citizenship certificate
5. Permanent residential certificate
6. Refugee registration certificate
7. Any government issued license/certificate
8. Government service/employment certificate
9. Bank or post office accounts
10. Birth certificate
11. State educational board or university educational certificate
12. Court records/processes
13. Passport
14. Any LIC policy

The above documents could not be from a date later than the cut-off date of March 24, 1971 (Midnight). Those who did not have any 1971 documents that mention their name can show any one of the documents named in this list if it mentions their parents/grandparents along with one more document from List B (with 8 options) to establish a connection. List B included:

1. Birth certificate
2. Land document
3. Board/university certificate
4. Bank/LIC/post office records
5. Circle officer/gaon panchayat secretary certificate in case of married women
6. Electoral roll
7. Ration card
8. Any other legally acceptable document

For women married to other places, and with no documents to pick from list B to establish a family link, the state allowed
a) Circle officer or gaon panchayat secretary certificate that need not be on or before the 1971 date
b) A ration card issued on or before the 1971 date.

What happens if your name is not in the list?
In Assam, those left out from the final NRC list had to approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals. Over 200 new FTs were set up across the state for this purpose. If a person is dissatisfied with the FT’s decision, he/she can appeal against it. To accommodate disenfranchised persons, detention camps were set up across the state. At present, there are six detention centres in Assam's Goalpara, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Silchar, Kokrajhar and Tezpur, where district jails have been converted to camps.

So what would a pan-India NRC mean?
The Citizenship Act, 1955 clearly states that anyone born in India on or after January 26, 1950 up till July 1, 1987 is an Indian citizen by birth. Anyone born on or after July 1, 1987 but before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and either of whose parents is an Indian citizen at the time of his birth is an Indian citizen. And anyone born after the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 and both of whose parents are Indian citizens at the time of his birth is an Indian citizen.

The only exception to this was Assam where as per the 1985 Assam Accord foreigners who came to the state up to March 24, 1971 were to be regularised as Indian citizens. Seen in this context, only Assam was allowed to take in foreigners up to March 24, 1971. For the rest of the country, those born outside the country after January 26, 1950 and residing in India without proper documents is a foreign, illegal immigrant. Such persons are subject to laws like the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and tribunals are already empowered to detect, detain and deport them.

Taking the Assam model to the entire nation will be akin to asking 125 crore Indians to reapply for citizenship.
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