Foreigners Tribunals need new procedures for hearing NRC appeals: Activist Abdul Batin Khandekar

28 November 2019
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Nearly three months after the final National Register of Citizens was published, on 31 August, nineteen lakh residents of Assam who were left off the list are yet to receive rejection notices explaining the grounds of exclusion. These residents are granted a 120-day period to appeal before the Foreigners Tribunals. Since the appeal lies against the reasons for rejection, this period cannot begin until the notices are issued. In fact, the Registrar General of India is yet to even officially publish the NRC in the Gazette of India, in the absence of which the document has no legal sanction.

Meanwhile, on 26 November, the Supreme Court case monitoring the NRC project was listed for hearing for the first time before the recently appointed chief justice of India, Sharad Arvind Bobde, who presided over the case with the judges Sanjiv Khanna and Surya Kant. A batch of NRC-related petitions that had been clubbed together were listed for hearing. Among these is an application filed by the Brahmaputra Civil Society and the Justice Forum Assam—both Assam-based organisations that have been involved in field research, advocacy and legal interventions on the NRC. The groups sought directions from the court to frame a standard operating procedure applicable to Foreigners Tribunals while adjudicating the NRC appeals. Ultimately, the case was not taken up on the day, and is yet to be listed for a new date.

The day before it was listed for hearing, Arshu John, an assistant editor at The Caravan, spoke to Abdul Batin Khandekar, the working president of the Brahmaputra Civil Society, about the current issues concerning the NRC that have been left unresolved after its publication. This included the status of doubtful voters, or D-voters, who were suspected of residing in Assam illegally, and consequently left out of the NRC. Individuals are designated as D-voters by the Election Commission and Border Police officials, and they have to prove their citizenship before the Foreigners Tribunals. Among other things, Khandekar discussed four key issues that he believed needed to be resolved before the appeals process against the NRC exclusions could begin.

Arshu John: At present, after the publication of the NRC, what are the issues that are left unresolved?
Abdul Batin Khandekar: There are four or five issues. First is the issue of D-voters. At this stage, after the final publication of the NRC, what will be the fate of these D-voters? Whether they will go for NRC appeal or whether there will be a case referred by the competent authorities. This is not clear. Around 1,20,000 voters are marked as D-voters, what will happen to them? When the draft NRC was published in July 2018, the determination of their citizenship was put on hold. Today, after publishing the final NRC, their claim has been rejected without any evaluation. Some of them have been waiting since 1997, some since 2010. For twenty years there has been no reference, there is no certainty that their cases will be referred now. What will happen now? What will happen to their descendants? Even if they allow them to appeal the rejection before the Foreigners Tribunals, it is a good thing, because they will get a chance to produce their documents.

But the unfortunate thing is that they have lost one opportunity already, because their application did not undergo any evaluation during the NRC process. When they were marked D-voters also there was no evaluation, I have the documents that show that, I had filed RTI applications.

Arshu John is an assistant web editor at The Caravan. He was previously an advocate practicing criminal law in Delhi.

Keywords: National Register of Citizens NRC Assam Foreigners Tribunal
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