What is the background of NRC and Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 ?

Mubasir Raji *

Since colonial times, Assam experiences a large scale influx of migrant population from other British dominated regions. Particularly from Bengal a large number of peasants came to Assam in search of fertile lands. British had a friendly attitude towards this migration.

Migration continues unabated for many years but in 1947 British decided to leave their Indian colony after partitioning it into the dominions of India and Pakistan. Partition and the subsequent communal riots led to the increase rate of migration towards Assam from East Pakistan regions.

Realizing the alarming situation the Government of India decided to formulate an Act. They termed the Act as Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950. The Act gave authority to expel illegal immigrants from the soil of Assam. Now the question is how illegal immigrants are going to be identified?

To identify illegal immigrants, the National Register of Citizens was prepared for the first time in Assam during the conduct of 1951 Census. That was how the concept of National Registrar of Citizen (NRC) came for the first time. The idea was to record the particulars of every citizens residing in Assam as a part of Census of 1951 and to subsequently identify illegal immigrants.

The Immigrants Act 1950 was never implemented because the process the NRC could not be completed and illegal immigrants cannot be identified. The process of NRC turns out more complex than the Ministry of Home Affairs would like people to believe.

At that time both India and Pakistan were newly independent nations; the regulation for issuing Visa and passport between the two nations were not clearly spelt out. It was only possible after October 1952.

Another major roadblock before expelling illegal immigrants from the country was Foreigner Act 1946; before 1947 there was no two separate nations called India and Pakistan. Foreigners Act 1947 which gave the definition of a foreigner does not recognized Pakistani nationals as foreigners. In fact the act was amended to include Pakistani Nationals as foreigners only in the year 1957.

In the meanwhile demands to conduct NRC continue to get louder but no concrete steps were taken up by the government till 1965. The government came up with a new plan of issuing Identity cards in the year 1965. The idea was to issue National Identity to all the Indian citizens residing in Assam and to detect illegal immigrants.

The concept of issuing National Identity Card was never clearly formulated and hence in the year 1965 the government of India decided to drop it in consultation with the state government. The idea of issuing National Identity card turns out impractical at that moment.

The issue took a sharp turn in 1971 India won the war against Pakistan that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh. During the war India help Bangladesh to win freedom against Pakistan.

The conflict was a result of the Bangladesh Liberation war, when Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was fighting to seek freedom from (West) Pakistan. In 1971, Pakistani Army was reported to be committing barbaric crime and atrocities against Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan, particularly the minority Hindu population in East Pakistan.

At that moment former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to take action against Pakistan and at the same time give refuge to civilians from other side of the border. The war of 1971 once again changed complexity of implementing Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act 1950.

In a notification issued by the Government of India in the year 1976, the State government was instructed not to deport persons coming from Bangladesh to India prior to March, 1971. Student leaders in 1979 came out in fierce protest demanding detention, disenfranchisement and deportation of illegal immigrants from Assam.

The historic movement which came to be known as Assam Agitation or Assam Movement was initiated by All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) and lasted a span of 6 years. The movement, however, culminated in the signing of the landmark Memorandum of Settlement the Assam Accord. It was signed by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), Central and State Governments on August 15, 1985, at the behest of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in New Delhi.

As per the Assam Accord, 1st January 1966 was determined to be the precise date based on which the detention and deletion of illegal immigrants from Assam will take place. It allowed citizenship for all persons coming to Assam from “Specified Territory” before the cut-off date. It further specifies that all persons who came to Assam prior to 1st January 1966 (inclusive) and up to 24th March 1971 (midnight) shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1939.

Name of foreigners so detected will be deleted from the Electoral Rolls in force. Such persons will be required to register themselves before the Registration Officers of the respective districts in accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1939. Foreigners who came to Assam on or after 25th March 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law.

The process of detecting and expelling immigrants never officially took place even Assam Accord. The issue was ultimately taken up by the Supreme Court of India. Following two writ petitions by Assam Public Works and Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha & Organization the Supreme Court in 2013, headed by the bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohintan Fali Nariman, and directed the Union Government and the State Government to complete the update of NRC. Since then issue has became a hot topic.

Since December 2014, the Supreme Court bench of Justice Gogoi and Justice Nariman took up regular hearings to supervise the NRC update, entertain requests for extensions and decide which documents could be admitted as evidence of citizenship.

The issue seems extremely murky at the moment. To be included in the NRC one has to identify an ancestor whose name appears in either the NRC of 1951 or a pre-1971 electoral roll, and provide documentary evidence of linkage with that person. Even with the substantial assistance available at the NRC Seva Kendras, this can be a challenge for many people.

Consider a person who lives in Assam but was not born in the State. In order to process his or her legacy data, NRC officials have had to make as many as 600,000 requests for “legacy verification” to various State governments. The response from them has been poor and tardy. Some States responded to less than 1 per cent of the requests.

More than 100,000 requests for legacy verification were made to the West Bengal government, but the NRC authorities received responses only in 6.5 per cent of the requests. The history of the reorganization of Assam has also complicated the process.

The relevant records of some current residents of Assam, for example, could be in an office in Shillong, which was the capital of undivided Assam but is now under the jurisdiction of the Meghalaya State administration. In other words, the verification of legacy data would depend on the cooperation of an office under the jurisdiction of another State government.

* Mubasir Raji wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at mubasirraji(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 30, 2019.

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