Law schools across India on Tuesday launched a collaborative legal aid clinic to help people excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam. As many as 3.3 crore people had applied for the exercise.

More than 19 lakh people were left out of the final list of the updated citizens’ database that was published on August 31. The number of people left out comprise around 6% of Assam’s entire population or two times the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or the population of Nagaland. They will now have to appeal against the decision in foreigners’ tribunals.

The clinic, named Parichay, will function as a “clearing house of litigation and research assistance for lawyers filing appeals against exclusion from the NRC”, a statement said. The institutes that will be a part of this include Assam’s National Law University and Judicial Academy, West Bengal National University of Juridical Science, Hyderabad’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research, Delhi’s National Law University and National Law University of Odisha.

A statement issued by Parichay said that other law schools are also in the process of formalising their collaboration with them. “Parichay will assist lawyers in drafting appeals, conduct research on pertinent questions of the law, assist in training lawyers and paralegals, and generate documentation on the functioning of Foreigners’ Tribunals,” it said. “Law students will work with lawyers to ensure that they are able to file effective appeals before the Foreigners’ Tribunals. Parichay will also collaborate with civil society to provide legal aid to communities.”

The Vice-Chancellor of National Law University and Judicial Academy JS Patil called this initiative an “unprecedented collaboration” among law schools. “We believe that this is necessary to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to legal representation,” he added.

NALSAR Vice-Chancellor Faizan Mustafa said an innovative collaboration like Parichay is necessary to prevent a humanitarian crisis. “After the NRC, absence of effective legal aid would mean that many persons would be rendered stateless without due process,” Mustafa said.

Their counterpart NK Chakrabarti of National University of Juridical Sciences said Parichay is an extension of the commitment of his university to the provision of legal aid. “While the Assam government has assured that legal aid will be provided to all, an exercise of this scale requires the participation of law schools and civil society,” Chakrabarti said.

The founders of this initiative includes National Law University’s Assistant Professor Anup Surendranath, Jindal Global Law School’s Assistant Professor M Mohsin Alam Bhat and Kolkata-based lawyer and research Darshana Mitra.

The statement said Parichay will be headquartered in Guwahati, and will work with teams of student volunteers across the country. “Students will be selected through a selection process to constitute a core team and a pool of volunteers for research and drafting,” it added. “The core team will work with the programme director to coordinate Parichay’s activities between lawyers and student volunteers.”

It also welcomed applications from law students across India. Each collaborating university has appointed a faculty adviser who will coordinate on behalf of the university with legal aid clinic.

The NRC was first published in 1951 and was updated to exclude those who may have illegally entered Assam via Bangladesh after March 25, 1971.

There are several controversies surrounding the NRC, including speculation that it has been targeted against a particular community. Many political parties, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, 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.

Also read:

How Assam’s National Register of Citizens counted people – from 2015 to 2019

Read the stories of those who are most affected by the NRC exercise in our series: The Final Count.

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