By Sunil Garodia
The final NRC published in Assam today has left out nearly 19 lakh persons who will now have to go through the legal process of appealing to the Foreigners Tribunal (FT). The deadline for filing such application is 31st December 2019. It is clear from the large number of exclusions that not all who have been left out are foreigners. Although the government has promised all legal help to them, including subsidizing their costs for filing appeals, there are many other factors that need to be looked into to ensure a smooth and equitable process.
For one, a sufficient number of FTs need to be set up expeditiously. Although Kumar Sanjay Krishna, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home Political) in the government of Assam, has said that the process is on to set up 200 FTs and 200 more will be set up soon to help the excluded people to file their appeals, the time period is too short and the government should have been ready with the Tribunals by now. The second thing is that these FTs need to be manned by qualified people who understand the matter. It is a sensitive matter that needs to be dealt with according to law. Although no laxity should be allowed, there should also be flexibility in accepting documents that are a part of the list. For instance, the refugee certificate given to residents earlier has not been accepted as the state government does not have records in its possession to match and validate the claim. But is it the fault of the claimant? The FTs must accept the document after validating it through forensic or other tests as per standard procedure instead of rejecting it. More than half of those excluded will get relief if that is done.
Already, the state government has started to doubt the results of the exercise. Himanta Biswa Sarma, finance minister of Assam and the chief troubleshooter for the BJP in the whole of the north-east, has said that the NRC will not help in driving out foreigners from the region and the government is already looking at other methods. He has also questioned the results by pointing out that more people have been left out from districts in the interiors of the state rather than from districts bordering Bangladesh. But since the exercise was document-based, it just reflects that the reality of those who failed to submit relevant documents to prove their claim. But the government had already decided that since foreigners come from Bangladesh, they would ideally be located in districts bordering that country and is hence surprised at the results. It is also surprised that more Bangladeshi Hindus than Muslims have been left out. The results put a question mark on the whole process and invite a complete rethink.