R Dutta Choudhury
GUWAHATI, Feb 10 – Though Assam is witnessing a fresh controversy regarding the cut-off date for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of 1951, the minutes of the tripartite meeting , in which the decision to update the citizenship document clearly stated that the NRC would be updated by including the names of persons from the electoral rolls up to 1971 and their descendents.
The decision to update the NRC was taken in a tripartite meeting involving the Central and State Governments and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) on May 5, 2005 and the meeting was chaired by Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.
The minutes of the meeting, which is available with The Assam Tribune, said, “AASU representatives raised the issue of updating of the NRC. They wanted this task to be completed in a time bound manner and suggested creation of a separate administrative machinery in the state for the purpose. CM, Assam said that the State Government has agreed to update the 1951 NRC by including the names of persons from the electoral rolls up to 1971 and their descendents. He said that efforts would be made to complete the task within two years after which identity cards will be issued. He also agreed to create a separate directorate to take up the work expeditiously and wanted the Central Government to give financial assistance for the purpose. Prime Minister assured that the Government of India would provide financial support to the State Government to enable it to complete the work within the stipulated time.”
From the minutes of the meeting, it was clear that the Central and State Government had agreed on the formula on updating of the NRC way back in 2005 and unnecessary controversy has been raised now on the issue. It is also clear that the Central and State Governments totally failed to meet the deadline for updating of the NRC.
The State Government took a very long time only in finalizing the modalities for updating the NRC, while, the Centre issued the notification to amend the Citizenship (Registration of citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 only in November last year to authorize the Assam Government to go ahead with the process of updating of the NRC.
The notification issued by the Government of India made it clear that for preparation of the draft of the NRC, the district magistrates would publish the copies of the NRC of 1951 and electoral rolls prior to the year 1971 and send the same to the local registrar for wide circulation and public inspection. Though there have been reports that 1966 would be the base year for updating the NRC, the Government notification did not say so. The notification only mentioned, “the names of the persons who came to Assam after 1966 and before March 25, 1971 and registered themselves with the Foreigner Registration officers and who have not been declared as illegal migrants or foreigners by the competent authority shall be eligible to be included in the consolidated lists.” From the notification, it is clear that the Government is taking up the work of updating the NRC as per the provisions of the Assam Accord.
Meanwhile, AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya said that the formula for updating of the NRC was taken way back in 2005 and the Government is responsible for the fresh controversy. He said that the failure of the Government to take timely action in updating the NRC , as well as the contradictory statements by Chief Minister and other Ministers created confusion in the minds of the people.
Bhattacharya pointed out that there is no question of a base year as “we are not demanding a fresh NRC and only the existing NRC of 1951 will be updated.”
Reacting to Chief Minister’s statement that the AASU demand for DNA tests for establishing linkage was impracticable, Bhattacharya said that the Chief Minister should not try to encourage Bangladeshi nationals by opposing DNA tests to establish linkages. He said that there should be a foolproof mechanism to prevent foreign nationals to get their names enlisted in the updated NRC and DNA test is such a method.
The AASU adviser said that there is no reason to conduct DNA tests of all the citizens of Assam. There is no controversy regarding the citizenship of the tribal and ethnic groups and the AASU only wanted DNA tests of the suspected nationals. “Conducting DNA tests will be a costly affair but as the Government of India has assured to provide funds for a comprehensive NRC, the Assam Government should not oppose carrying out of DNA tests. If required, the Centre should be persuaded to set up a DNA test laboratory in the State,” he said. He also said that there should be provisions to take punitive action against anyone found to be providing false information to get his or her names included in the NRC.
The AASU discussed the issue with Union Home Secretary GK Pillai yesterday and he assured that the NRC would be updated as per the decisions taken in the tripartite meeting held with the Prime Minister in the chair. He also assured the AASU that the demand of the AASU for DNA tests of suspected nationals would be considered.