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Snubbed by SC, Assam govt hits back: Reject NRC, fresh one with rest of India

Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

By Abhishek Saha

With over 19 lakh people excluded from Assam's final National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the BJP voicing its displeasure that many among them were Hindus, the state government effectively buried it on Wednesday, saying it "cannot accept this NRC" and a fresh exercise should be conducted in Assam along with the rest of the country.

Addressing a press conference in Guwahati, Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said the final NRC of Assam should be rejected and a fresh pan-India NRC should be prepared. The current NRC, he said, cannot be accepted by the state government because it is "erroneous" with "wrongful exclusions and inclusions".

"State government cannot accept this NRC. People who should not have been included in the NRC have been included. And those who should have been included have been excluded," he said.

Welcoming Union home minister Amit Shah's statement in Parliament about an NRC exercise across the country, Sarma said Shah's statement comes in the backdrop of similar requests to him by Assam and the state BJP at multiple meetings - first, the "current NRC in Assam should be rejected"; second, there "should be a national NRC, with Assam taking part in it"; and, third, "if possible, cut-off date for the pan-India NRC can be the same across the country".

Sarma said: "Cut-off for entire country should be same. There should not be two cut-off dates. If 1971 is the cut-off, then it should be the same for the country," he said, adding that Assam should not have a different cut-off date. "Assam NRC should be rejected and Assam should be allowed to be part of national NRC," he said.

The NRC, first prepared in Assam in 1951, is being updated to include names of persons (or their descendants) who appear in the 1951 NRC or in any of the electoral rolls or in any one of the other admissible documents issued up to midnight of March 24, 1971, which is the cut-off for detection of "illegal" migrants in Assam. The cut-off is based on the historic Assam Accord of 1985.

Sarma did not specify what should be the cut-off of a pan-India NRC, but insisted that whatever the year, it should be the same across the country.

The final NRC published on August 31 excluded over 19 lakh applicants and they will get a chance to appeal against before Foreigners' Tribunals in the state. The first step towards contesting the NRC rejection is obtaining a rejection order from the NRC authorities, but that has not been issued yet.

In July, the Assam government and the Centre had petitioned the Supreme Court for re-verification of a sample of names included in the draft NRC - 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere - but this was dismissed by the bench of then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi after Prateek Hajela, the state NRC coordinator, said that re-verification of 27% names had been already done.

Hajela invited flak from the state government and the BJP. In a statement on July 24, the state BJP said, Hajela was working under the direction of "certain forces" to "publish a faulty NRC with names of illegal foreigners in it".

On August 1, the state government released the exclusion data of the draft NRC to question the accuracy of the process and criticised Hajela. In its reply on the floor of the Assembly, the state government had said that Hajela's reasoning was wrong. On October 18, the Supreme Court ordered Hajela's transfer out of Assam.

Sarma pointed out that in the absence of a pan-India NRC, a suspected illegal foreigner excluded from the NRC in Assam could move to another state and start living as an Indian citizen. "If we remove an individual from Assam through NRC as a 'foreigner', he might go and get his name included in Kolkata's voter list. He will become Indian citizen. We are saying all 'foreigners' should be sent out from India, not only Assam," he said.