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Will the NRC bug bite Assam or end up as a scam?

POSTED ON 3 JULY 2015

wasbir hussain
executive director, cdps & visiting fellow, ipcs

Who knows, the mammoth exercise of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam may end up as sort of a scam! After all, the exercise is a mega project, involving mega money, an indication of which can be had from the publicity blitzkrieg by the Assam Government spending crores. The people of Assam first of all must be told what is the total allocated budget for the NRC updating project? How much money has been spent on the process so far? Is there any monitoring of the expenditure? Is the Congress Government in Assam prepared to make public some of the interim figures before burying the accounts statements in the files?

One is talking about finances (meaning, the money component of the project) because going by the latest stand of the Tarun Gogoi Government in Assam, the NRC updating process may not be completed anytime soon. Chief Minister Gogoi on Tuesday suddenly made public that he was writing a letter to the Government of India demanding that the names of all people in Assam which figure in the ‘latest electoral rolls’ (meaning the 2014 voters list used for the Lok Sabha polls) must be included in the NRC at the end of the current updating process. The Chief Minister made this announcement after a ‘review meeting’ with senior officials earlier in the day. The only rider, if aides of the Chief Minister are to be believed, is that the ‘final call’ will be taken by the Centre and the Supreme Court which is monitoring the NRC updating exercise.

What Chief Minister Gogoi said on Tuesday is definitely a turnaround on the modalities itself for the NRC updating process. Look at the existing modalities: the register is being updated (so far) on the basis of the 1951 NRC and electoral rolls up to the midnight of March 24, 1971. Besides, there is a list of admissible documents of the pre-March 24, 1971 period, like school final (HSLC or Matriculation) certificates etc. Already, people across Assam have been running from pillar to post to first obtain the ‘legacy data’ which means the documents namely 1951 NRC (National Register of Citizens) and Electoral Rolls up to midnight of 24th March, 1971. In these documents, a person has to either find his/her name or the name of his/her parents/elders and then establish a link with documentary evidence with them. This has been a time-taking experience for most people. There are also reports of touts and others asking for bribes to get people the “Legacy Data’. After all, not everyone in the ‘power-less’ and inaccessible Assam villages can find such ‘Data’ online!

Now, if the only requirement for someone’s name to be included in the NRC is his/her name figuring in the 2014 voters list or his/her parents/kin’s name figuring in the 2014 voters list, why the gigantic exercise of going about collecting the ‘Legacy Data’in the first place? Again, why did the Assam Government or Chief Minister Gogoi take so long to come up with the new idea or demand that the 2014 voters list should be the basis for inclusion of a name in the updated NRC? Is Mr Gogoi’s demand an afterthought following the anger among various sections of people on the modalities of the NRC update?

One would actually be glad if the Assam Government or any conscious citizen, through an RTI application, tell the people of the State whether indigenous ethnic communities were already exempted from any requirement for inclusion of their names in the updated NRC. This means, the names of people belonging to indigenous communities are to be automatically included in the updated NRC. If this is the case, why did the Assam Government not clarify things earlier to save such people of undue harassment? Things are still unclear and that precisely is the reason for mega confusion on the subject.

Why the latest move to simplify things by Chief Minister Gogoi? No prizes for guessing: the Assam Assembly poll are due guys! The Congress after all may reap mega benefits if people who are finding it difficult to manage any of the admissible documents are spared of all the trouble and come to have their names enrolled in the NRC easily. Well, the politics of citizenship is at play again in Assam. We shall await the fate of the NRC and we shall also wait and see if the exercise ends up in a scam or a scandal!

(courtesy: The Sentinel)