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India’s citizenship laws and the proposed amendments are in conflict with the Assam Accord. Explain in the context of National Register of Citizens.

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The Assam Accord:

  • The accord was signed between the central and Assam governments on one side and the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and the now defunct All Aasam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), who spearheaded the movement, on the other, in the presence of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
  • According to the accord, all foreigners who entered Assam illegally on or after March 25, 1971, would be detected, their names deleted from the electoral rolls and then deported under the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964.
  • The details of Clause 6 and 7 of the Assam Accord are as under:-
  • Clause 6: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
  • Clause 7: “The Government take this opportunity to renew their commitment for the speedy all round economic development of Assam as to improve the standard of living of the people. Special emphasis will be placed on education and science & technology through establishment of national institutions.”

ASSAM MOVEMENT

The Assam Movement (or Assam Agitation) was a popular movement between 1979 and 1985 against undocumented immigrants in Assam. The movement was led by All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the 'All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad' (AAGSP). The agitation leaders formed a political party, Asom Gana Parishad, which came to power in 1985 and 1996.

The issue of “migrants” and “citizenship" is a matter of concern for the Northeastern states who fear flooding of immigrants from India’s neighbours: Bangladesh and Myanmar. Having resolved Indian citizenship on the basis of birth (jus soli), descent (jus sanguinis), naturalisation (jus naturalis) or registration, the Constitution and the Citizenship Act 1955 dealt with the then vexed issue of Pakistani migrants in the aftermath of Partition.

In 1985, as a consequence of the Bangladesh war and the Assam Accord, Citizenship Act got a new provision (Section 6A) whereby those who were ordinarily resident on January 1, 1966, and on the electoral roll for the 1967 elections were deemed citizens.

Migration status

Those who came between January 1, 1966 and March 25, 1971 would need to have their status determined by tribunals under the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act 1983. In the Sonowal case (2005-07) this procedure, which was peculiar to Assam, was abolished. In 2005, 88,770 cases were pending and 12,848 migrants were declared illegal. The Governor’s report showed an excessive influx of Bangladeshis playing on the xenophobia of the Northeast states.

Indian citizenship laws came to be more relaxed in favour of Overseas Citizens of India (OCI’s) from 2004 to 2015. In 2003 and 2005, a kind of dual citizenship was offered to OCI’s in 16 countries excluding, Pakistan and Bangladesh. India was claiming links with all "Indians" abroad as part of a Greater India policy.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 tried to extend this process in ways that were not above reproach and with and consequences which threatened to undermine the Bill’s future. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill of 2016 proposed to make particular minorities who entered into India without valid travel documents or whose documents had expired to become eligible to apply for citizenship.

The technique used by the Bill of 2016 peculiarly granted legal migration status to “minority communities, namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.” The meaning is clear in the sub-texts. The central government would exempt these “minorities” from the provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 and Passport Act of 1920.

NATIONAL REGISTER OF CITIZENS

  • In 1951, the first census of Independent India was conducted. The original NRC was a register prepared after the 1951 Census, which recorded the particulars of those who belonged to Assam.
  • This list was compiled with data from each village showing the houses or holdings in a serial order and indicating against each house or holding, the number and names of persons who were staying there at the time.
  • These registers were kept in the offices of deputy commissioners and sub-divisional officers, but in the 1960s these registers were handed to the police.
  • The NRC will be updated as per the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 (As amended by 1. G. S. R. 803(E), dated 9th November 2009 (with effect from 9/11/2009.) 2. Ministry of Home Affairs (Office of Registrar General, India), Order No. S.O. 596(E), dated 15th March, 2010, published in the Gazette of India, Extra, Part II. No. 504 S.3(ii), dated 16th March, 2010 p.1.). As per the two statutes, the eligibility status would be ascertained based on the NRC, 1951, Electoral Rolls upto 1971 and in their absence the admissible documents upto 24th March (midnight) 1971. The updated NRC shall contain names of persons eligible for inclusion in updated NRC by virtue of being original inhabitants of Assam.

NRC Updation: National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation basically means the process of enlisting the names of those persons (or their descendants) whose names appear in any of the Electoral Rolls up to 1971, 1951 NRC or any of the admissible documents stipulated.

THE ISSUE

The Citizenship Act of 1951 was amended in 2009 and 2010 to empower the National Register of Citizens to ascertain the Indian citizenship of those who reside in or belong to Assam. Even those who live away from Assam, but trace their ancestry to the state have been encouraged to apply for authentication of their citizenship with the NRC.

The fact that only some of the names of the members of a single family appeared on the list while others did not has also raised doubts about the rigour of the verification process. But the hope that their names might appear in the next list has kept them from protesting violently against the NRC. Given that a proper documentation system does not exist in the country, for most of those whose names do not appear in the NRC, procuring the required documents, especially birth certificates, in order to prove their relationships with persons whose names have appeared in the legacy documents and thus establish their citizenship is fraught with difficulties. This is particularly so in the case of many settlers who have come to Assam from other parts of the country. State governments to which documents were sent for verification have been slow to respond.

The publication of the updated NRC is indeed a positive step in so far as it puts to rest wild speculations about the extent of the illegal migrant population in Assam and the resulting polarisation that political parties have been exploiting to make electoral gains. However, the absence of any clear policy as to how to deal with the proclaimed illegal migrants has created a sense of unease in the minds of many presently residing in Assam. Further, while the NRC is being updated for Assam, there is no plan to prepare similar NRCs for the other states in the North East where illegal migration continues to be a volatile issue.

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