Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal recently said that the state could legislatively deal with the wrongful inclusion of names in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) even after its final publication on August 31. According to media reports, Sonowal claimed that everyone has the right to question, so even after the publication of NRC, if required, the government will take whatever step is required. But this makes the locals of the state wonder — is an error-free NRC possible in Assam?
The Centre and the Assam government sought permission for sample re-verification to find out wrongful inclusions and exclusions of persons in the NRC.
An additional exclusion list comprising the names of 1,02,462 persons to the draft NRC was published in Assam in July this year. With the release of the additional list, the NRC has so far excluded over 41 lakh people adding a lakh to the previous figure of 40 lakh who were left out in the draft NRC published in July last year.
The persons whose names appeared in the additional exclusion list are the ones who were included in the draft NRC published on July 30 last year, but were subsequently found to be ineligible. This again raises question on the accuracy of the entire update process.
Meanwhile, the NRC authority is considering recommending strong action against a senior Assam government official for alleged irregularities in checking documents of people from Chamaria and some nearby areas in Kamrup district after which re-verification had to be done.
According to media reports, Kamrup deputy commissioner Kamal Kumar Baishya sent a report to the NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela about two months ago on the alleged irregularities by a former circle officer of Chamaria under his district which came to light last year.
He had allegedly ticked the original inhabitant (OI) column for all the people, including Hindus and Muslims, in the verification list, which lessened his burden for cross-checking the documents as well as the tedious process of finding out the family tree of the applicants. This is only one case which came to light because the deputy commissioner of the district reported it. What is the guarantee that such incident did not happen in the entire state? The NRC authorities might be doing their jobs with utmost sincerely but are they still not human beings?
Talking about other possible errors, after the second draft list was published on July 30, 2018, complaints about spelling mistakes in the names of the citizens were reported from all corners of the state.
The NRC secretariat then expressed that most of the people, while applying, had done so in English and the NRC draft lists came out in Assamese. So clearly because of the conversion from English to Assamese, errors had cropped up. NRC authorities also tried to resolve the issue.
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NRC ‘correction form’, an application form for those whose names was published wrongly in the completed draft NRC published on July 30, 2018, was issued. The citizens who wanted to correct their names had to fill up the forms online before January 30, 2019.
The NRC will primarily be published in Assamese in Brahmaputra Valley, but because it is a very important database there will also be an English version.
NRC process is being conducted under the rules of National Identity Card, and the cards that will be finally issued will bear the names in both English and Assamese. If mistakes were reported in the draft list, what is the guarantee that the mistakes won’t happen in the final list?
It needs to be mentioned that names of around 40 lakh applicants did not figure in the complete draft list for which people submitted claims and objections till December 31, 2018. After the additional exclusion list the number has gone up to around 41 lakh and after the final list that is to be published on August 31, it would be known how many are finally left out. But what all errors would be noticed is a big question.
The ruling BJP in Assam on Monday reacted sharply to NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela’s suggestion to the Supreme Court to strike out five of the listed 15 documents for the claims and objections process of the NRC exercise.
The Assam unit of the BJP had criticised NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela for telling the Supreme Court that so far, 27% of the names included in the draft had been verified again, even as the apex court dismissed appeals by both the state and the Centre demanding 10-20% sample re-verification few days ago.
BJP state president Ranjit Das had questioned Hajela’s intent on what basis did he do the 27% re-verification. Das suspects mala fide intent. He had demanded up to 20% re-verification to ensure a correct NRC without wrongful exclusion and inclusion. Das claimed that he stands by his demand because even if some more time is taken, the saffron party wants a correct NRC.
So, if the president of the ruling party is worried about the accuracy of the entire NRC process, what should the citizens do?
(Raul Johnson is a Guwahati-based environment crusader and RTI activist. Views expressed are his own)