Though the Supreme Court has extended the deadline for the publication of a second, ‘complete’ draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) by a month, there are doubts whether this would be possible.
The original date for publishing the draft was June 30. The new deadline is July 30.
The NRC has been eight years in the making, but the authority in charge of the process requested the Supreme Court for more time because of floods, particularly in the Barak valley.
At least 42 people have so far died in floods and landslides, with tens of thousands more leaving their villages to shelter in make-shift relief camps on high ground.
Officials compiling the NRC, and their equipment, mainly computers, have also had to be evacuated to safer places.
A month ago, on June 2, Mr Prateek Hajela, the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) Officer coordinating the compilation of the NRC, had stated that “99 percent” of the verification of documents, family trees, etc, of applicants for inclusion in the NRC had been completed; 85 per cent of the data entry process had also been finished by that time and publication of the second and final draft NRC was “on schedule.”
Barely 20 days later, he filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court asking for more time to publish because of the rains and floods.
The Monsoon this year arrived sooner than expected in the Indian sub-continent, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.
Pre-monsoon rains started in east and northeast India and Bangladesh in early May, and have been heavier than the ten-year long-term average, according to the Met Department.
On Monday, July 2, a Special Bench of the Supreme Court in New Delhi accepted the plea and fixed July 30 as the date for publication of the second and ‘complete’ draft of the NRC.
The Special Bench of the Court comprised Justice Mr Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Mr Rohinton F Nariman. Mr Hazela was present in Court. The Union of India was represented by Mr K K Venugopal, Attorney General, and the State of Assam by Mr Tushar Mehta, Assistant Advocate General for the state.
Mr Hazela asked the Supreme Court for special security measures for himself and his family, given the highly political nature of his task. He is a native of Uttar Pradesh state but a member of the Assam-Meghalaya states’ cadre of the IAS .The Court directed the Assam government to take the necessary steps for the security of Mr Hazela and his family.
But will the one-month extension given by the Supreme Court be sufficient?
As residents of Assam know, each year the state is hit by five to six waves of flood, particularly in the Brahmaputra valley. And the South west monsoon is only just beginning. The worst is yet to come.
Thus so far only parts of the Brahmaputra valley have been affected by floods and that too not very badly. The worst hit districts are Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi in the Barak valley, parts of Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, and some parts of upper Assam and the north bank.
Meanwile, tension is spiking in immigrant- Muslim dominated areas of Assam as millions of people of East Bengal / East Pakistan and Bangladesh origin wait to find out whether they would be included in the register of Indian citizens.
Most, but not all, live in the “char” areas. ‘Char’s are alluvial islands, or sandbars, on the Brahmaputra river, which are washed away by floods each monsoon, and re-emerge elsewhere on the river in the dry season.
It is estimated that about ten per cent of the population of Assam, mostly immigrants from Bangladesh who are used to a riverine lifestyle, live in these chars.
They are among the poorest of the poor in Assam, with virtually no access to education, barring a few Madrassas, or medical facilities.
They are, however, a political force, as political parties have traditionally gone out of their way to enroll them as voters.
If they are left out of the NRC, the political consequences may be considerable.
Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal, Lok Sabha MP and President of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has already alleged that names of Muslims have been excluded arbitrarily and in a large numbers in the ‘minority ’ dominated areas of the state, particularly the chars.
Former Congress Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has echoed the charges.
But the char dwellers may have to wait more than one month to know their nationality status as the rising waters of the Brahmaputra have already flooded their homes.
“There are no chars. They have already been washed away by the water,” Ali Hussain, a businessman who recently crossed the Brahmaputra from Morigaon district to Darrang district, both in central Assam, by country boat, said.
With dire predictions being made that several million people could be left out of the second and ‘complete’ draft of the NRC, the state and central authorities are apprehensive of large-scale violence breaking out.
They fear trouble in 22 out of 33 districts. In addition to state police, 235 Companies of Central Para Military Forces (CPMF), have been deployed, mostly in nine Muslim-majority districts. A Company is approximately a hundred men strong. The Army is also on stand-by.
Utpal Bordoloi is a Guwahati-based senior journalist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org