The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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More legal hurdles in stemming influx

Guwahati, Dec. 12: A week after the Supreme Court removed one legal hurdle in the detection and deportation of illegal migrants from Assam, a few more have appeared on the horizon.

Delhi has pointed out to Assam that its attempt to update the National Register of Citizens — a directorate has already been formed to undertake the task — contravenes the Citizenship Act of 1955. Going by the book, only the central government can update the register.

What it means is that Assam cannot have an updated list, one that can actually separate the citizen from the illegal migrant, unless Delhi formally delegates the responsibility to Dispur.

The minutes of the last round of tripartite talks involving Delhi, Dispur and the AASU mention the “genuine dilemma between the law of the land and the commitment made (in the Assam Accord of 1985”.

The document, tabled in the Assembly today, also points out that states cannot update the citizens’ register “unless powers are delegated to them”.

A source in the department for implementation of the Assam Accord said there could also be “legal complications” in updating the National Register of Citizens, circa 1951, on the basis of the electoral rolls of 1971.

When his opinion was sought, the Register General of India is understood to have confirmed that the register of citizens cannot be updated on the basis of the electoral rolls of 1971 despite the Assam Accord containing a clause which states that migrants who settled in the state on or after March 25 that year will be liable for deportation.

The confusion has, however, not stopped the state government from going ahead with the task of updating the citizens’ register.

Minister Bhumidhar Barman, who heads the department for implementation of the Assam Accord, said in the Assembly that the process of scanning electoral rolls was almost complete. He also informed the House that the government recently constituted a committee of ministers to suggest how to go about implementing Clause 6 of the Assam Accord, which raises the controversial question: “Who is an Assamese'”

On December 5, Assam won a small battle in the bigger fight against infiltration from Bangladesh when the Supreme Court quashed a central notification that had resurrected a pro-migrant clause in the repealed IM(DT) Act.

Delhi had incorporated the questionable clause — the onus of proving that someone is an illegal migrant rests solely on the complainant — into the Foreigners Act in February, barely six months after the apex court struck down the IM(DT) Act.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi today said any new law meant to provide “judicial safeguards” against harassment of minorities on the pretext of identifying and deporting illegal immigrants should be applicable throughout the country. The IM (DT) Act was in force only in Assam.

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