The Supreme Court has insisted on 31st August as the final deadline for publishing Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). Residents excluded from the final NRC may face legal action. However, to truly meet this deadline, the Supreme Court must settle three unanswered legal questions challenged before it.
First, the court has to decide if the 1985 Assam Accord is constitutionally valid in Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, a case filed in 2012. The Accord resulted in the introduction of section 6A to the Citizenship Act, 1955 which requires the expulsion of all migrants who came to Assam post-1971. The NRC process seeks to implement this amendment.
Second, persons excluded from the NRC can appeal to a Foreigners Tribunal. In May 2019 the Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 1964 was amended to empower tribunals to reject appeals without hearing the appellant. This amendment to the appeals process was challenged in All Assam Minority Students Union this July.
Third, while section 3(1) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 guarantees citizenship to ‘every person born in India’, it was amended in 2003 to make citizenship by birth conditional on the citizenship status of one’s parents, for all those born after 1987. The scope and effect of section 3 remains pending in Deepak Kumar Nath since 2015.
So, while the Supreme Court has been relentless in insisting that the final NRC list for Assam be published on 31 August, it must pave the way by settling these pending cases. If not, the human costs of the 31 August deadline may be irreparable.
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