Thousands in Assam who have made it to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are waiting to enrol for Aadhaar more than 14 months after the list was published in 2018. Many of them have taken to social media to complain over the last few months. The issue brings the focus back to the controversial Rs 1,600-crore citizenship registry, the fate of which is now in limbo. EastMojo explains this issue in detail.
What are the problems being faced by those who have not been issued Aadhaar?
The unique ID, commonly known as Aadhaar, is linked to a 12-digit number. Over the years, it has become an important tool of identification. Officials say they receive several complaints every day from citizens on the issue. Many others have taken to social media to convey how they are suffering in the absence of Aadhaar.
On December 2, Ria Barua tagged Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi on Twitter complaining about how she faced a job rejection because she did not have Aadhaar.
In Assam, the NRC is being updated on the orders of the Supreme Court for the first time since it was first prepared in 1951. Local groups demanded this update to the register to identify illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, who have allegedly settled in Assam in large numbers.
Out of the around 33 million applicants who filled up forms to get their names included in the registry, around four million could not make it to the draft list, which was published in 2018.
These rejects had the option of filing claims for inclusion in the register. There was another provision to file complaints or objections against those who had their names in the draft list of the register.
To simplify this complex process, the state government, the Centre and the office of the state coordinator of the NRC came up with a standard operating procedure.
Officials had earlier expressed apprehensions over how to keep track of those who are out of the NRC list. In the past, several of those declared foreigners by the Assam’s 100 foreigners tribunals have allegedly absconded.
The standard operating procedure (SOP), meanwhile, made it mandatory for all those who were part of the claims and objections exercise to submit their biometric details.
“During the hearings of claims and objections, the State Government, in collaboration with the UIDAI, will undertake the process of biometric enrolment of all the applicants of NRC. The biometric enrolment in respect of persons who are part of claims and those persons objected upon will be distinctive and separate ID will be generated. Once the final NRC has been published such persons who are included in the NRC will be given the usual Aadhaar number as applicable to legal residents in the country. In case a person already has an Aadhaar number who is also a part of the claim or objected upon, his Aadhaar number will be obtained.”
The Supreme Court approved the SOP on November 1, 2018.
According to official documents reviewed by EastMojo, Assam government’s Home and Political Department were appointed as registrar for the exercise. It was given the responsibility to undertake biometric enrollment of NRC applicants part of the claims and objections exercise. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the 12-digit unique identification number commonly referred to as Aadhaar, was roped in to provide technical support.
The biometric data collected during the exercise has been stored in UIDAI servers.
On August 31, 2019, the NRC authorities published a final list of the NRC, bringing down the number of rejects to 19,06,657. The ones whose claims were successful should have been allotted their Aadhaar numbers as per the Supreme Court order. But the process is still stuck in bureaucratic red-tape.
Why are the Aadhaar numbers not being issued?
According to officials of the Assam government, this is because the application receipt numbers (ARN) of the NRC applicants who have made it to the NRC list on August 31, 2019, have not been shared with the UIDAI authorities. The list of those who have made it to the NRC list is available with the NRC authorities who work under the Registrar General of India (RGI). The UIDAI authorities need access to these ARNs to start allotting Aadhaar.
What do the officials say?
Two senior officials of the Assam government said they have taken up the matter with the RGI. “We have no problem if the people are issued the Aadhaar numbers. We have taken it up with the Home Ministry, specifically the RGI. It is for the RGI to take a view,” said one of the senior officials.
East Mojo has reviewed two letters. Seema Rekha Bhuyan, a secretary with Home and Political Department, wrote to the RGI in July about complaints from NRC applicants.
According to the contents of the letter, UIDAI authorities also opined that they will start generating the Aadhaar once they know the ARN of those who are in the final NRC list.
Hitesh Dev Sarma, the state coordinator of the NRC, also spelt out in a letter in June that unique ID can be issued to all the NRC applicants since it is not a proof of citizenship.
In his letter in June, the state coordinator of the NRC said how there were defects in the final list. He mentions they were communicated to the government. Moreover, the RGI is yet to notify the final NRC list as per the rules.
The senior Assam government official said that this lack of final notification could be one of the reasons why RGI is yet to take a view on the issuance of Aadhaar to those whose claims for inclusion in the NRC list were successful.
The NRC list published on August 31 has come under attack from various quarters. The ruling BJP has been at the forefront of criticism of the veracity of the list. Last month, senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had told The Indian Express that the government would like to undertake a new NRC if the Supreme Court allows.
While the authorities had called it the final list when it was published, a cloud of doubt now looms with even the new state coordinator, Sarma, questioning it.
After communicating it to the state government, Sarma recently submitted an affidavit to the Gauhati High Court, calling the August 31 list a ‘supplementary’ list and reiterated that the final NRC list was yet to be published by the RGI. The affidavit also mentioned that there were 4,700 ineligible names in the said list.
Earlier, in October, Sarma wrote a letter to district officials invoking a NRC rule, which is used before the publishing of the final list. Sarma directed district officials to submit a list of ineligible persons whose names are there in the NRC list.
In September, SC Keyal, a senior lawyer representing the state coordinator and the then assistant solicitor general of India, told the Gauhati High Court that rejection letters were not being issued to those whose names are not in the list because the said list had not yet been officially accepted by the RGI.
“Since there are a number of applications pending before the Hon’ble Supreme Court seeking re-verification of the NRC records and for preparation of a fresh NRC, the authorities are not in a position to issue rejection slips as on date,” the September 30 order further read quoting Keyal.
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