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'Migrants have not caused any threat to country'

September 11, 2019 19:25 IST

'Government must take into consideration the human cost of the NRC exercise'

IMAGE: People check their names on the National Register of Citizens final list at an NRC centre in Buraburi Gaon, Morigaon, Assam. Photograph: PTI Photo

Even two weeks after its publication, the confusion over the National Register of Citizens refuses to die down.

A people's tribunal, which consists of former Supreme Court Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, and former Delhi high court chief justice Justice A P Shah, has criticised the implementation of the massive exercise as having 'spawned a humanitarian crisis'.

The tribunal said it worries 'because there are no signs of this crisis abating'.

Out of 33 million applicants, over 1.9 million people were excluded from the final NRC published on August 31, 2019.

A week after the final NRC list was released in Assam, the citizen's jury held discussions on the issue.

During its discussion spread over two days, the tribunal focussed on:

Has the NRC process been in conformity with the Constitution?

What has been the role of the judiciary in upholding Constitutional processes and morality?

What was the humanitarian crisis and the implications of extending NRC to the rest of the country?

Justice Madan B Lokur, below, discusses the issue in an e-mail interview with Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

The People's Tribunal, of which you are part, has criticised the NRC exercise. Are there any plans to challenge the citizenship exercise in the courts?

The exercise was not criticised. The process was criticised.

The government has been at the receiving end of the criticism over the NRC. But given that the whole thing was mandated by the Supreme Court, and monitored closely as well, is it right to criticise the government over it?

As mentioned above, the process was criticised.

The government was criticised to the extent that the process caused, amongst other things, a humanitarian crisis which was compounded by the Supreme Court fixing unrealistic timelines.

Is there a better, foolproof way to enumerate the citizens?
How do you think the exercise can be perfected, without losing sight of the goal -- which is to detect illegals in the country?

This is for the government to answer.

But it must take into consideration the human cost.

The number of illegal immigrants in Assam, from the expected crores, has come down to less than two million. Does this show errors in enumeration, or the truth?

Only an in-depth analysis will tell.

Is there a problem of illegal immigrants in Assam, and elsewhere in the country?

It all depends on how an illegal immigrant is defined and identified.

The detention aspect of the exercise has not kicked in yet, and there is 120 days for those left out of the NRC to appeal their claim. Is this a fair window, according to you?

Many people have already been detained, some for many years.

A window of 120 days is adequate, but if circumstances warrant, it should be increased.

The government is very keen to extend the NRC exercise to across the country. Do you think it's a good idea?

Certainly not by adopting the present process.

Do you agree that illegal migration is really a threat to citizens of India?

It depends on the extent of migration.

We have had migrants before as well and they have not caused any threat to the country.

What needs to be done to address the concerns of the citizens of India about illegal immigrants as many feel they are eating into India's resources?

This is for the government to answer.

Home Minister Amit Shah says he will expel illegal immigrants and Bangladesh has refused to take them. In this scenario one wonders what we can do with the 1.9 million illegal immigrants?

This is for the government to answer.

Many believe the setting of August 31 as deadline was wrong on the part of the Supreme Court for the NRC exercise, and it should have given more time. Do you feel so? If yes, why?

It is difficult to say yes or no, but surely the Supreme Court should have been pragmatic about the timelines.

What are the chances of these excluded people getting citizenship?

This is for the government to answer.

Can the State put the burden of citizenship on citizens?

Not 100% as has been done.

To a very limited extent, yes, by permitting oral evidence as well.

Underage marriage is high in some areas of Assam and therefore it is said women don't have documents to prove their lineage, as they have their husband's name on documents but not of their parent. Is this true?

This is what some of the testimonies indicated.

Is the NRC in conformity with the Constitution of India?

The Supreme Court is, in a sense, looking into it.

The Constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act (external link) is pending consideration.

SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com in Mumbai
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