Assam NRC: Counting Citizens
DESK BRIEF: Will the 31 August NRC list, produced under a legal cloud, still have legal authority?
Senior Advocates Raju Ramachandran and Chander Uday Singh, writing in the Indian Express, outlined a ‘potentially horrific denouement’ in completing Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). Section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 says that every person born in India between January 26th 1950 and June 30th 1987 is an Indian citizen by birth. Despite this statutory declaration the NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela recommended excluding persons born in India before 1987 from the NRC if one parent (through whom they draw legacy) is a ‘Doubtful Voter’, a ‘Declared Foreigner’ or has a citizenship claim pending before a Foreigner’s Tribunal. On August 13th, the Supreme Court insisted that the NRC exercise should continue unhindered but did not settle this legal conflict.
The Coordinator’s recommendation and Supreme Court order in effect qualify Section 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act. Can an executive or Supreme Court order grounded in administrative convenience impose conditions on the statutory guarantee of ‘citizenship by birth’? The short answer is no.
Section 3(1)(a)’s ‘purport and effect’ remains to be interpreted by a Constitutional Bench in Assam Sanmilita Mahasanaga, which the court has not heard since 2017. Will the 31 August NRC list, produced under this legal cloud, still have legal authority?
SC Observer Desk