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Home minister Amit Shah (ANI file)
Home minister Amit Shah (ANI file)

Opinion | NRC: Tread with caution

Home minister and BJP president Amit Shah has said that India shall soon introduce a nationwide National Register of Citizens

Union home minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah has said that India shall soon introduce a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). He said the government has a mandate for carrying out such an exercise since it was part of the BJP’s election promises, based on which the party was voted to power. As much as the idea of identifying illegal immigrants may sound appealing, this is an exercise fraught with risks, as the example of Assam shows. The process in the state has been mired in inaccuracies, with low but worrying odds of legal citizens being declared illegal residents in their own country.

The migration of large numbers from one region to another is not unusual. Economic factors are behind this phenomenon, since demand for labour often varies from place to place. Most migrants are poor and often lack documents. In Assam, 1.9 million people have been left out of the NRC, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many are simply those who have been unable to prove their citizenship. Across India, there is no saying what numbers will find their names off the Register. No other country is likely to accept their transfer. So where will they go? They cannot be held in detention endlessly.

Any such exercise demands a robust process that minimizes data infirmities. This would mean a complete rehaul of the methods used in Assam. Also, those who don’t make it to the list should get adequate legal recourse. The government has promised as much, but the poor among them would need state assistance as well. Even a single genuine citizen left out would be one omission too many.

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