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India declares nearly 2 million ‘illegal foreigners’ in new NRC

NEW DELHI (India): India has published the final National Register of Citizens (NRC), a list of recognised citizens in the state of Assam, excluding nearly two million people amid fears they could be rendered stateless.

A total of 31.1 million people were included in the NRC, leaving out 1.9 million people, according to a statement from the Assam government on Saturday.

“The entire process of NRC update has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner. Adequate opportunity of being heard has been given to all persons at every stage of the process. The entire process is conducted as per statutory provisions and due procedure followed at every stage,” the statement said.

Last July, more than four million people in the northeastern state were excluded from the final draft list of citizens published by the Registrar General of India.

The NRC list is unique to Assam and was first prepared in 1951. It will include those whose names appear in the 1951 document and their descendants.

The list will also include those who have been on India’s electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, or in any other document approved by the government.

The government says it carried out the mammoth exercise to detect and deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.

The work on the latest NRC list, a Supreme Court-monitored exercise, started in 2015.

Assam, with a population of 33 million people, is in a state of high alert and additional security forces have been deployed in anticipation of any law-and-order situation following the publication of the NRC list.

The government has assured that the those who have been left out from the final list will be given the opportunity to prove their citizenship first in quasi-judicial courts – known as Foreign Tribunals (FT) – and subsequently in higher courts.

Assam’s Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said that those who have been left out will not be treated as foreigners.

“These cases will be taken special care of. We will provide all the possible assistance. So, there is no need to panic. I would appeal to all the people to maintain peace and harmony,” said Sonowal.

People will get 120 days to appeal, the government announced earlier this month. Up to 200 more FTs are expected to be set up on top of the existing 100.

But critics say that tribunal members can be underqualified and that the entire process has been riddled with inconsistencies and errors.

The number of errors has also turned some in the BJP in Assam against the process, with Himanta Biswa Sarma, a BJP minister in the state, saying it had left off “so many genuine Indians”.

“We have lost hope in the present form of the NRC,” Sarma told reporters, saying that the party was already mulling a “fresh strategy on how we can drive out the illegal migrants”.

Human rights activists fear that the people who do not find their names on the list might face possible jail time or deportation, and their voting and other civil rights will be snatched away.

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