Assam govt, parties announce legal aid to needy left out of NRC


Guwahati: With just four days left for the publication of the NRC on August 31, the Assam government on Tuesday said it will provide free legal aid to “needy” people whose names do not figure in it, as it sought to assuage the fears of bonafide Indians who apprehend losing citizenship.

Besides the government, the state’s ruling BJP and opposition Congress have also come forward to assist bonafide Indians who are kept out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Non-governmental organisation- Centre for Justice and Peace (CJP)- of civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad has also volunteered to navigate the complex issue of citizenship after publication of the final NRC.

The promise of legal assistance comes in the backdrop of apprehension voiced by people who fear they could be left out of the NRC, which many in Assam consider a protective shield for the indigenous people so they are not confined to detention camps or deported to Bangladesh.

The Assam government on Tuesday promised it will make necessary arrangements to provide legal aid to such people through District Legal Services Authorities (DLSA).

Those left out of the NRC will not be detained “under any circumstances” until the Foreigners Tribunals declare them foreigners, said Assam’s Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Kumar Sanjay Krishna.

Noting that under the provisions of the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, and Foreigners Tribunal Order, 1964, only Foreigners Tribunals are empowered to declare a person a foreigner, the statement said.

“Therefore, non-inclusion of a person’s name in NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as foreigner”.

For the benefit of those whose names do not appear in the final NRC, appeals can be made under Section 8 of Schedule to the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

The Centre has extended the time limit for filing of appeals from 60 days to 120 days and necessary amendment made to the Foreigners’ (Tribunals) Amendment Order, 2019.

Two hundred foreigners tribunals are being set up shortly for hearing the appeals filed at the designated foreigners tribunals, which will be notified by the state government very soon, the statement said.

Another 200 foreigners tribunals will be set up soon and effort is being made to establish them at convenient places so that filing and hearing of appeals are done smoothly and efficiently, he said.

The process of updation of NRC is being conducted by the Registrar General of India. The Supreme Court is monitoring the exercise.

It is for the first time since 1951 that the NRC is being updated in Assam to identify bonafide residents and deport illegal immigrants.

When the draft NRC was published on July 30, 2018, there was a huge controversy over the exclusion of 40.7 lakh people from it. The draft NRC included the names of 2.9 crore people out of the total 3.29 crore applications.

In the list published in June 2019, over a lakh more people were excluded.

Assam has seen a huge influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century.

BJP state president Ranjit Dass has said the party’s 40 lakh workers have been directed to approach the district legal aid societies in their respective areas to assist those whose names are not included in the NRC.

He asked people not to panic but approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals within 120 days.

“There are legal aid societies in each district. People must take their help to resolve their issues. If the issues are not resolved there, people have the legal option to approach the High Court and later the Supreme Court,” he said.

“We will not allow the exclusion of any genuine Indian citizen – be it Hindu, Muslim, Christian or of any other religion- from the NRC. The Rs 1,200-crore exercise will not be of any worth if even one genuine citizens name gets excluded from the Register,” he added.

Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Ripun Bora also said his party will provide free of cost legal aid to genuine Indian citizens who do not figure in the NRC.

It was the Congress that had begun the NRC process in the state to ensure all genuine Indian citizens were provided protection and illegal foreigners detected.

The state BJP president said,”Keeping in view the self-respect of each Indian citizen excluded from the Register, as per our democratic right, we will demand that the state assembly and Parliament adopt provisions to correct the wrong done to them”.

“We urge the state and central governments to take action against doubtful people only after proper investigation,” Das added.

Setalvad’s CJP had conducted a three-day workshop here which concluded on Monday to equip local, district-level lawyers and paralegal volunteers to “navigate the complex issue” of citizenship after the publication of the final NRC.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has repeatedly appealed to people not to panic if their names do not appear in the final NRC.

“The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has already cleared its stand about the steps and procedures to be adopted in case of excluded names from the final NRC.

“The Assam and central governments are making every effort and extending all cooperation for the publication of an error-free NRC. We have been extending cooperation in the whole procedure with due respect to the Supreme Court,” Sonowal said.

He had on August 23 reviewed the law and order situation at a meeting with Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and Superintendents of Police (SPs) of all the districts to thwart any attempt at causing disturbance after the publication of the final NRC. (PTI)