Guwahati: The fate of an estimated four million residents of Assam hangs in the balance after the state released the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) excluding them.

The final draft included only 28.9 million applicants, out of the state’s population of 32.9 million.

Of the 4 million left out, 248,000 are kept on hold. These include D-voters (doubtful voters who have been disenfranchized as they could not prove citizenship), descendants of D-voters, and cases pending before the foreigners’ tribunal.

The people left out will now have three options to stake claim to citizenship.

“There will be three forms—a claim form, an objection form and a correction form. The evidence filed for claims and objections will be thoroughly examined again, for people who have been left out," said Prateek Hajela, state coordinator of NRC in Assam.

The state did not say why the exercise, which has cost over 1,220 crore so far, left out 4 million people. However, Sailesh, registrar general of India, said: “This is only a draft NRC and not the final NRC, because there will be a process of claims and objections beginning 30 August, whereby ample opportunity will be given to every person who wishes to file any objection to the draft NRC."

The draft NRC, published following Supreme Court orders, is in accordance with the Citizenship Act, Sailesh said.

The registrar general also said “we will provide sufficient and adequate opportunity" to anyone who is a genuine Indian citizen but could not submit his documents “and only then, we will arrive at a final list".

An expert studying the NRC developments said that the state could turn into a tinderbox if the omitted people in certain pockets outnumber those who are included. The matter would also attract unsolicited international attention, once the final NRC list is released, said the expert.

“Once these people are disenfranchized, what do you do with them? Once these people are declared stateless, we stand the risk of inviting intervention from the United Nations, which we may not want," Nani Gopal Mahanta, head of the department of political science at Gauhati University, said. “There is no repatriation clause with Bangladesh and no other provision. This will have huge international ramifications." Prohibitory orders preventing gatherings of four or more people have been

imposed across several parts of Assam. State and central forces are in place to prevent any outbreak of violence.

“There is no reason for any outbreak of violence," Hiren Chandra Nath, Guwahati commissioner of police, said. “We have divided Guwahati into eight zones to keep a watch on the situation. Additional teams of state and central paramilitary troops have been deployed all over the state and, if needed, the police headquarters will deploy more forces."

The centre on Monday repeated that the excluded would not be designated as foreigners. “This must be treated as a draft and from now onwards, the process of claims will start," said Satyendra Garg, joint secretary (North-East) in the Union home ministry. “The Centre wants to state that this process has reached the draft stage today and there is no question of people being sent to the foreigners’ tribunal or detention centre. This has been reiterated by home minister Rajnath Singh as well. Law and order must be maintained at any cost in the follow-up to this draft. If anyone creates any trouble, they will be sternly dealt with," Garg said.

People whose names have been omitted would be given ample opportunity to file claims, Singh said. “I want to emphatically say that this is only a draft and not the final NRC. Everyone will have full opportunity to file claims and objections as per provision in law. Only after the disposal of claims and objections, the final NRC will be published. I want to clarify that even after the final NRC, every person who is disenfranchized will get an opportunity to approach the foreigners’ tribunal," he said.

“This means that even those whose names do not figure in the final NRC will get an opportunity to approach the tribunal. There is no question of any coercive action against anyone," Singh said.

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