The Gauhati High Court has asked Assam’s National Register of Citizens coordinator to submit a comprehensive affidavit about how a section of “undeserving individuals” had managed to get themselves included in the final list, reported PTI on Thursday.

The court was referring to “ineligible persons”, who have been declared foreigners by the Foreigners Tribunals. This also includes those marked as doubtful voters by the election officials or persons whose cases are pending at Foreigners Tribunals and their descendants.

The court made the observations during a hearing on October 19, whose order was uploaded recently.

“Let the Assam state coordinator, NRC file a comprehensive affidavit and bring on record the situations along with necessary particulars, whereby inroads into the National Register of Citizens may have been created by individuals who are undeserving and not legally entitled to be included in the NRC,” the court said.

The court was hearing a plea by a resident, Rahima Begam, against a Nalbari Foreigners’ tribunal order that declared her a foreigner. Justices Soumitra Saikia and Manojit Bhuyan said they had observed that several names were included after flouting norms. The judges added that the coordinator’s submission in the case should not be restricted to the Nalbari district, but must contain details of other districts in Assam.

The High Court noted that a matter of great importance was being addressed in the case. “It is not a solitary instance, as much as, in a number of cases we have noticed and recorded similar issues appearing,” it said. The court said that the petitioner’s name had appeared in the NRC list even when proceedings against her were ongoing on the basis of reference that the Nalbari superintendent of police (border) had made.

“Such insertion of name is against the law,” the bench said, according to Live Law. NRC state coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma was asked to file the affidavit within three weeks on October 19.

People check their names on the final list of the National Register of Citizens at Buraburi village in Morigaon district of Assam on August 31, 2019. [Credit: David Talukdar/AFP]

On November 8, Nalbari district’s Foreigners’ tribunal number three had declared Begam a foreigner. She filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court on August 14 against it.

NRC 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, two times the number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and the population of Nagaland. Some of those left out have been appealing against their exclusion in foreigners’ tribunals. As many as 3.3 crore people had applied for the exercise.

Earlier this month, the Assam National Register of Citizens coordinator had asked deputy commissioners across the state to delete names of “ineligible persons” from the document.

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.

Last year, a “people’s tribunal” had also pointed out flaws about the Supreme Court’s role in the compilation of Assam’s National Register of Citizens. The tribunal, which held its discussions in September in Delhi, observed that the top court’s role had raised important constitutional concerns. It said the top court’s judgement that paved the way for the NRC exercise had relied upon “unverified, and now disproved, data to hold that migration amounted to ‘external aggression’ upon India”. In doing so, the court “in effect, dehumanised migrants and infringed their rights to liberty and dignity”, the tribunal said.