NRC has spawned humanitarian crisis: People’s tribunal

New Delhi, Sep 9 (PTI) Judiciary’s insistence on setting deadlines for the NRC process in Assam has increased pressure on the people involved, a “people’s tribunal” has said, criticising the implementation of the massive exercise as having “spawned a humanitarian crisis”.
The tribunal, including former Supreme Court Judges M B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice A P Shah, said it worries “because there are no signs of this crisis abating”.
The citizen’s jury held discussions on the issue on September 7-8, a week after the final list of the National Register of Citizens was released in Assam. The final list of the citizens’ register, after an exercise monitored by the Supreme Court, excluding over 19 lakh people.
More than 3.30 crore people had applied to be included in the NRC.
During its discussion over two days, the tribunal focussed on four questions:
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?
It said it heard views and experiences of people excluded from the National Register of Citizens, and of various leading experts.
“We all agree that the NRC has spawned a humanitarian crisis. We worry because there are no signs of this crisis abating,” it said.
“Large numbers of minorities in Assam, whether religious, linguistic or ethnic, have lived with the fear of being told that they don’t belong in this country. They may, at any time, be marked doubtful voters, and prevented from exercising their franchise. A local border police constable can again, at any time, accuse them with being foreigners and refer their cases to a detention centre. (And) even after the final register, there are many demands for selective reverification,” the tribunal said.
The tribunal said the judgment in the 2005 case of Sarbananda Sonowal “erroneously” equated migration with “external aggression” or invasion which, in effect, dehumanised migrants and infringed their rights to personal liberty and dignity.
“Judicial orders have set difficult conditions for release from detention camps conditions that cannot be met by marginalised and vulnerable people. Despite the scale of the exercise, the judiciary’s insistence on setting deadlines has increased the pressure on both the process and the people involved,” the tribunal said in its report.
The jury on ‘Contested Citizenship in Assam: Constitutional Processes and Human Cost’ heard testimonies of people who were asked to present documents related to birth, schooling and landownership, which when produced were refused for discrepancies.
It said Foreigners Tribunals were created by an executive order of the Ministry of Home Affairs and cases were then referred to the Foreigners Tribunals by the Assam Border Police Force as well as the Election Commission have been processed in an arbitrary manner without prior investigation or grounds for making such reference.
“The verification forms were often empty with just names and addresses. No grounds were furnished,” the jury said.
“Tribunals do not function independently and are not free from executive influence. Tenure and salaries are decided by the government, keeping the members under the supervision and control of the appointing authority. Also, two-third of cases decided by Tribunals are by ex-parte orders and, most often, the main grounds are not mentioned in the notice sent by the Foreigners Tribunals to the suspected persons,” it said.