Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday said India would have to persuade Bangladesh to take back the people excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam after the foreigners’ tribunals pass their final verdict, The Times of India reported. The list of citizens published on August 31 left out more than 19 lakh people.

“After the final verdict, we should start discussing with Bangladesh to accept its citizens who had settled in India illegally,” Sarma said. “Bangladesh and India are friendly nations. There have been regular occasions when 100, 150 people were sent back to Bangladesh but post NRC numbers will be far higher.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party leader, who has expressed dissatisfaction with the exercise to update the citizens’ register, said India would have to somehow convince Bangladesh to take back its citizens but added that detainee camps would not be set up. “If it doesn’t accept them, we will have to evolve a way out,” he added. “But I reiterate that no detainee camps will be set up.”

India does not have a repatriation treaty with Bangladesh. In his visit to Bangladesh last month, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said the process of documenting and identifying undocumented immigrants in Assam was India’s “internal matter”.

Sarma said the ruling party suspects that the maximum number of irregularities in the list took place in the Karimganj, Hailakandi, Dhubri and South Saimara border districts. He added that while the exclusion rate in fully autonomous districts was 16%, in border districts it was just 6%. Sarma said both the central and state governments had requested the Supreme Court that 20% re-verification be carried out in border districts and 10% in other parts of the state.

The BJP leader said the final exclusion list would be submitted to the Supreme Court only on September 7. After that, an appeal can be made to the court for re-verification.

Sarma said reports suggesting that the state would bring in legislation to protect genuine citizens excluded from NRC were false. “During the election campaign, we [BJP] had promised that we shall enact the Citizenship Bill for citizenship of Hindus and Buddhists who migrated from neighbouring countries and also promised that after Assam, we shall go for NRC at the national level,” he said.

Admitting that genuine citizens who are Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims were left out, Sarma said the state had set up 200 tribunals in addition to the 160 already in operation. He added that the inclusion of people in the list holding fake identities was more worrying than the exclusion of genuine citizens.

Sarma also said that political parties and groups had not criticised the NRC itself but only its implementation.

The 19 lakh people left out of the final list comprise 6% of Assam’s entire population. Many political parties, including the Congress and the BJP, have criticised the NRC, pointing out that many Bengali Hindus have been left out of the register. Bengali Hindus are the BJP’s oldest vote bank in the state.

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