Assam and West Bengal spar over citizenship list
Bengal denies Assam officials’ charge that it failed to provide legacy details for NRC
Guwahati: With four million people in neighbouring Assam grappling with potential statelessness for not being able to prove their legacy, it has come to light that the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government maybe partially accountable for their plight.
“While the digitization of the family tree process was underway, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) officials in Assam had written to all state governments, requesting them to provide legacy details of the pre-1971 electoral rolls. The West Bengal government did not provide details and did little to honour the request,” said a senior Assam government official, requesting anonymity.
The process of digitizing the family tree for drafting the NRC required people to provide legacy details of their ancestors, which would then be tallied with the digitized records in Assam.
“Before the computer generates the family tree, each applicant had to give the names of all siblings, descendants and ancestors. He or she was required to submit a manual family tree, which we would match with the digitized family tree verification process, in order to establish the veracity of the application,” Prateek Hajela, state coordinator for the NRC, told Mint.
The submission of the manual family tree, the official quoted above explained, required people to provide legacy details of their ancestor between the NRC of 1951 and the electoral rolls of up to March 1971. “If a person was applying for the NRC, and his or her grandfather was a resident of Calcutta back then and was on the electoral rolls till 1971, then it was incumbent on the state to provide and corroborate those details.”
Likewise, the official also said that if a person whose origins go back to West Bengal, had been left out of the draft NRC, the person had little means of proving their legacy if state governments were uncooperative.
“A person could be submitting the passport as proof, which states the father’s name which was there on the electoral rolls of Bengal, as part of their claims for reassessment. But if the state government is not responsive, then the person loses out,” the official added.
When quizzed, West Bengal officials denied any wrongdoing, and blamed the wear and tear of documents due to the passage of time. “All districts in Bengal were asked to share details over the past two years. Most of the details were found and shared. The procedure was about cross verification. Some documents were sent to district headquarters in WB. Those were verified and sent back. However, some documents were faded and illegible and, hence, could not be deciphered. They were sent back without verification,” said a district magistrate in Bengal, requesting anonymity.
The allegations against the West Bengal government were made after chief minister Mamata Banerjee cried foul over the NRC process, alleging in a press briefing on Monday that it had singularly targeted the Bengali-speaking population and denied any platform to those providing valid government documents, such as passports and Aadhar cards.
Hajela, however, said that the documents were not sufficient to prove legacy and were contrary to the methodology adopted by the NRC officials. “We have used the zero-base method for mapping legacy. This means that only pre-1971 data and documentation is being considered to prove legacy. An Aadhar card can be given to anyone and does not qualify as a legacy document.”
The centre has, in the interim, instructed district collectors in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to help tea garden workers and daily wage labourers residing in Assam with their legacy details.