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Updating NRC Will Only Legitimise Bangladeshis In Assam

Author: Upamanyu Hazarika
Publication: Swarajyamag.com
Date: March 3, 2015
URL: http://swarajyamag.com/politics/nrc-updating-will-only-legitimise-bangladeshis-in-assam/

If nothing is done, illegal immigrants will outnumber the indigenous population of Assam by 2040

After 30 years of the signing of the Assam Accord, it is being ostensibly implemented by updating the National Register of Citizens, which will contain the names of all Indian citizens residing in Assam. It is admitted by the central government in Parliament (14 July 2004), that as of 2001,  there were 50 lakh illegal infiltrators in Assam. Population of Assam in 2001 was 2.61 crores, which means that one in every  five inhabitant of Assam is a foreigner. As against this, between 1985 to 2012, only 2442 have been deported (October 2012, Assam Government White Paper). Two independent studies by professors B.K. and D.K. Nath, and Indrajit Barua, based on the rate of growth of foreigners in Assam on the basis of growth of Muslim population (24.56% in 1971, 30.9% in 2001 and 34.23% in 2011) have projected indigenous people becoming minority by 2040 or 2047.

It is the expectation of the people of Assam that the NRC updating process will finally expel all Bangladeshis coming after 25 March 1971. However, this expectation is misplaced as the legal and statutory basis of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated. This will legitimise a large number of Bangladeshis as citizens since the cut-off date for conferment of citizenship for migrants from East Pakistan / Bangladesh shifts from 25th March, 1971 to 3rd December, 2004.

Mode of acquiring citizenship

To understand the manner in which the cut-off date has shifted, we have to first understand how citizenship is granted under the Indian Constitution and the Citizenship Act 1955. There are various modes of acquisition of citizenship under the laws– by registration, by birth, by naturalization etc.– but what is relevant for Assam in the context of the Assam Accord of August 1985 are two modes i.e. (i) those who came from Pakistan / Bangladesh and (ii) citizenship by birth.

- Under the Constitution, citizenship is granted to those who came in from Pakistan (includes present day Bangladesh), before 19 July 1948. Which means that anyone coming from Pakistan after 19 July 1948 to India is a foreigner. However, in the case of Assam, the applicable date is 25 March 1971, pursuant to the Assam Accord of August 1985, under which all those who came in from erstwhile East Pakistan (Bangladesh) before such date were granted citizenship. This was done by amending the Citizenship Act, in 1986, specifically for Assam. In other words, Assam has to take the additional burden of foreigners who were granted citizenship between 19 July 1948 and 25 March 1971.

– Citizenship by birth is acquired by anyone born on Indian soil;  under the Citizenship Act, citizenship by birth is acquired by those born on Indian soil for different periods from independence till date in the following manner:-

—–    Between 26 January 1950 to 01 July 1987, by birth regardless of the fact whether parents are citizens or illegal migrants/ foreigners.

—–    Between 01 July 1987 to 03 December 2004, by birth with the condition that one of the parents has to be a citizen, by implication the other can be an illegal migrant/ foreigner.

—–   After 03 December 2004, by birth, both parents have to be citizens, or one can be a citizen and the other is not an illegal migrant.

What is the implication of the above legal provision for the grant of citizenship to Bangladeshis? This means that an illegal migrant coming after 25 March 1971 will continue to be a foreigner. But, if he or she parents children in Assam, the children will be regarded as citizens of India. This can be understood by way of an example.

Say, an illegal migrant couple, who came to Assam in 1974, has three daughters born in 1975, 1976, and 1977, respectively. While the parents are foreigners, the daughters will be citizens. Again if those daughters on attaining maturity marry in 1994, 1995 and 1996 to three illegal migrants from Bangladesh, and have three children each before 2004, all the children will be citizens. The husbands, though, being illegal migrants will not get citizenship.

In this manner, from the first illegal migrant couple, the family, by 2004, would have grown to 17 members of which only the first migrant couple and their three sons-in-laws will be illegal migrants, and the rest 12 members will be citizens. It is only if, an illegal migrant couple comes after 03 December 2004, and has children in India that both the parents and children will continue to be foreigners.

Shift in cut-off date

In this manner, the cut-off date for grant of citizenship to those who came from Bangladesh shifts from 25 March 1971 to 03 December 2004.

However, had the border been sealed or government vigilant, the first migrant couple would not have been able to enter or even if the couple had entered, it would have been expelled immediately.  But, illegal immigrants are welcomed, enrolled as voters, given benefits of development schemes, and by virtue of being Muslims, get special benefits for minorities and better treatment than the original inhabitants. To protect them, all measures are taken by the government. It takes a six year-long agitation, with 855 martyrs for the government to agree to deport them.

Furthermore, even the Assam Accord is frustrated by the IMDT Act during whose pendency for 22 years (1983 to 2005), only 1481 foreigners have been deported and which the Supreme Court observes is an Act brought in to protect illegal migrants in Assam. Even after being set aside in 2005, the Central Government brings in other measures to protect foreigners which were set aside by the Supreme Court in December 2006. Thereafter nothing is done and it is only at the insistence of the Supreme Court that the Assam Accord is being implemented by updating NRC.

Even though, all the illegalities committed by Government have been consistently set aside by the Supreme Court, the whole process of delay has inured to the benefit of foreigners and the political interests which protect them.

Assam Accord not being implemented 

Even the Assam Accord is not being implemented in respect of two major conditions. Firstly, under Clause 5.8, all foreigners coming after March 25, 1971 were to be expelled, but the whole process of NRC updating is silent as no measures are being taken to identify and expel the few remaining foreigners.

Secondly, Clause 10, “prevention of encroachment of government land and lands and tribal lands….. and unauthorized encroachers evicted” has not been implemented. On the other hand, Bangladeshis are being encouraged to encroach. For instance, it has been admitted by Circle Officer Sipajhar, that 77,420 bighas of riverine/ grazing land  is under encroachment, but this land has 33 government schools and 3 health centres and most importantly, many voters.

Additionally, for all those remaining foreigners, the large scale fabrication of identity proofs and a complicit state government will ensure that they remain there, so that the political interests who they sustain will thrive at the cost of the identity of the indigenous inhabitants.

What needs to be done

What requires to be done or ought to have been done is to make the condition of citizenship by birth being granted only on both the parents being citizens, to be made effective not from 03 December 2004, but from 25 March 1971, by amending the Citizenship Act, 1955. This is not difficult at all as by the signing of the Assam Accord, the Citizenship Act was amended by giving retrospective benefit of grant of citizenship to foreigners living in Assam up to 25 March 1971. The same now needs to be carried out in respect of the condition of both parents being citizens for acquiring citizenship by birth from 25 March 1971.
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