By Sunil Garodia
As the deadline (Aug 31) for publishing the final NRC in Assam approaches, it is clear that the document will not be perfect or even near it, despite several interventions by the Supreme Court and a gargantuan exercise conducted over a period of many years. There will still be lakhs of applicants who will be excluded from the list for many reasons. Not all of them are foreigners. Some of them have the necessary documents (the refugee certificate granted to their ancestors, for instance) but their applications have been rejected as the government doesn't have the records in its possession to match and validate the same. Others have missed out as they either did not have the proper documents or those they submitted were rejected. It is really a tragic situation.
But can it be helped? There is a huge list of documents for applying to the NRC and a person can submit anyone to validate his or her claim. Apart from the refugee certificate that is being rejected for want of validation at the government end, most other documents have been accepted. If a person who claims to be an Indian citizen cannot produce a verifiable document from the cut-off date, it is basically a problem that cannot be sorted out in his favour. The government has to be careful as there have been reports of a flourishing industry that is providing illegal immigrants with fake documents for submission with the NRC application. It is now clear that instead of sorting out old problems, the publication of the NRC is likely to create new and lasting problems that will create headaches for both the Centre and the state government.
There have been reports that although the Supreme Court had ordered identification and detention of suspected illegal immigrants, most of those who had already been declared foreigners by the Foreigner's Tribunals (FT) established under NRC have gone into hiding. The administration had shown urgency immediately after the apex court order and had arrested many but had then become lax allowing thousands to just vanish. Further, the government has allowed time till December 31 for people left out from the final NRC to file objections with the Foreigner's Tribunals (FT). But is the government ready with a sufficient number of FT's and if not, will it find the money and the people required to establish and run these?
One hopes that there will be no disturbance post the publication of the final NRC. Despite apprehensions, there was no major incident after the draft was published. It should remain that way now. Vested interests and some political parties must realize that the exercise is being monitored by the Supreme Court and that the judges will not allow any major deviation to take place. They should let the objection period expire before starting any movement. But the biggest headache is what will be done in respect of the thousands that will still be left out and declared foreigners? They cannot be kept in detention camps for eternity. With External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar recently saying in Dhaka that the NRC is India's "internal matter", there is no question of sending them back to Bangladesh or even asking the country to take them back. The government has not made it clear how it is going to handle this issue.