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With barely ten days to August 31 deadline for the final publication of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) today (Tuesday, Aug 20) said that “non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner”.

The MHA said they would be given adequate opportunity to present their case before the Foreigners Tribunals (FTs). The time limit to appeal before the FTs is also being increased from 60 to 120 days. It said that State government would also “make arrangements to provide legal aid to the needy people amongst those excluded from the NRC.” Adequate number of such tribunals was being established at convenient locations.

Home Minister Amit Shah had reviewed the NRC process with Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and other senior officials on Monday.

The Ministry in its statement said, “It was decided that in order to facilitate the persons excluded from the NRC, adequate arrangements will be made by the State government to provide full opportunity to appeal against their non-inclusion.”

“Every individual, whose name does not figure in the final NRC, can represent his/her case in front of the appellate authority, i.e. Foreigners Tribunals. Under the provisions of the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964, only Foreigners Tribunals are empowered to declare a person as a foreigner. Thus, non-inclusion of a person’s name in the NRC does not by itself amount to him/her being declared as a foreigner.”

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“As it may not be possible for all those excluded from final NRC to file the appeal within the prescribed time, MHA will amend the rules to increase the present time limit of filing of appeals in FTs from 60 days to 120 days regarding exclusion from final NRC. The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 are also being amended accordingly,” the statement said.

In order to maintain law and order situation, central security forces were being provided as per assessment of the Assam government, the MHA said.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had indicated Monday that while the final NRC would be published on August 31, as mandated by the Supreme Court, the government could later enact a legislation on the enumeration process — if questions are raised over it.

This came a day after hundreds of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) activists held a demonstration outside the office of the NRC coordinator in Guwahati, calling for “re-verification” of each application for inclusion in the rolls before the final list is published.

Besides, the Hindu Jagran Manch also staged a protest demanding postponement of the publication of the final NRC so that “no illegal migrant gets into it”, to prevent the exclusion of a large number of Hindus from the NRC, the Times of India reported.

“The NRC we are going to get on August 31 will leave out many genuine Indian citizens. If it is published in its present form, we will launch an agitation. Since there are instances of legacy data misuse, re-verification is essential,” Manch president said.

The BJP-led Sarbananda Sonowal government has argued that a foolproof NRC isn’t possible without proper re-verification of citizenship claims.

BJP legislator Shiladitya Dev said “many Hindu victims of Partition and their descendants may not have made it to the NRC” in the present form and their exclusion from the final list will have a “serious impact on Assam’s identity and culture”.

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Sonowal, who held a meeting with union home minister Amit Shah, said, “In a democracy, everyone has the right to ask questions. After the publication of NRC, if necessary in future, we will take whatever steps will be required.”

Sonowal was replying to a question on whether the government will explore some legislative options to deal with those whose names may be wrongfully excluded or included in the final NRC.

Assam, which had faced an influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC that was first prepared in 1951. The list is being updated as per the directions of the Supreme Court to segregate Indian citizens living in Assam from those who had illegally entered the State from Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.

The Supreme Court has, in the past fortnight, twice rejected the State’s and the Home Ministry’s plea for re-verification. Around 41 lakh people have been excluded from the draft lists published in July 2018 and June this year. Around 36 lakh have filed claims against their exclusion and objections have been filed against two lakh inclusions. The hearing of these claims and objections are under way.

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A bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R F Nariman had also said like Aadhaar data, an appropriate regime should be enacted for securing the NRC data.

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