The first draft of the much awaited National Register of Citizens for Assam has listed 19 million people out of the 32.9 million applicants as legal Indian citizens in a massive exercise aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in the state that borders Bangladesh.
People flocked to seva kendras across Assam in large numbers since morning today to check whether they figured in the list containing the names of those who were recognised as citizens of India in the Supreme Court-monitored exercise, hours after the document was released at midnight.
A top official said there is no need for anyone to panic and that other names are in various stages of verification.
"There is no need for anyone to panic. Other names are in various stages of verification and as soon as the verification is done, we will come out with another draft ... Substantial progress has been made, but still lots of work need to be done," Registrar General of India Sailesh said, releasing the first draft of 19 million names out of the total 32.9 applicants.
"This (NRC) is unprecedented. There is no example in this country. I doubt if there is any other country in the world having such a complex methodology to determine the citizenship of the people," the RGI told newsmen.
Security was tightened across the state to ensure law and order.
Asked about the possible timeframe for the next draft, he said the NRC Authority will present its case before the Supreme Court, under whose monitoring the document is being prepared, at the next hearing in April and the date would be decided accordingly.
"We are working with an intention to publish an error free draft. What time and when we will publish the next draft will be as per the Supreme Court guidance... We will be able to complete the entire process this year," Sailesh said.
The RGI said the ground work for the mammoth exercise began in December 2013 and so far 40 hearings have taken place in the Supreme Court during the last three years.
NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela said the application process began in May 2015 and a total of 6.5 crore documents were received from 68.27 lakh families across Assam.
"The process to verify the names is tedious. So there is a possibility that some names within a single family may not be there in the first draft. There is no need to panic as rest of the documents are under verification," he added.
People, carrying documents to prove their citizenship, thronged the seva kendras and stood patiently in long queues as soon as they opened at 8 AM to check if their names were included in the draft.
Many families claimed that names of only some of their members were found in the first draft, while others said none featured in the list.
The servers of the official websites for checking names in the NRC draft were jammed as thousands of people attempted to see their names in the first draft, NRC sources said.
The Office of the State Coordinator of National Register of Citizens, Assam, has provided five alternatives to check for the names included in the draft.
The first way is to check the printed version of the list at the NRC Seva Kendras between 10am to 4 pm till January 31 on all working days.
The third way is through automatic receipt of SMS by preregistering applicant's mobile number by sending an SMS to 9765556555 or 9108464438 and 9108464450.
The fourth way is sending demand SMS to the same phone numbers by typing ARN space and the 21 digit application receipt number (ARN).
One could also call at the 24X7 tollfree helpline number 15107 from Assam and 18003453762 from outside Assam.
The NRC was last updated in Assam way back in 1951. Then, it had recorded 80 lakh citizens in the state.
Since then, the process of identification of illegal immigrants in Assam has been debated and become a contentious issue in the state's politics.
The exercise got a major push after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in May 2016 with 'illegal immigration from Bangladesh' as a poll plank.
India and Bangladesh share 4,096-km-long border, of which 262 km falls in Assam.
A six-year agitation demanding identification and deportation of illegal immigrants was launched by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) in 1979. It culminated with the signing of the Assam Accord on August 15, 1985 in the presence of the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.