Home Ministry Tweaks Foreigners’ (Tribunals) Order Once Again

District magistrates can now forward a case to a tribunal in case a person excluded in the final NRC chooses not to file an appeal.

New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has yet again tweaked the Foreigners’ (Tribunals) Order, 1964 to include a provision whereby district magistrates (DMs) can forward a case to a tribunal for its opinion in case an applicant – not included in the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam – choose not to file an appeal.

This is in addition to the May 30 amendment to the Order which had empowered the DMs to seek an opinion from a Tribunal on any applicant she deems necessary, even if that person is included in the final NRC.

As many as 19,06,657 people in Assam were excluded from the final updated NRC published on August 31. According to the May 30 amendment, they are to file an appeal within the stipulated 120 days at the nearest Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT), a quasi-judicial body, to claim that they are Indian citizens. Non-inclusion of names in the final NRC doesn’t immediately deny one’s citizenship. To know the status, an applicant has to approach the FTs, and can be followed by appeals in the higher courts. The latest MHA amendment has made it clear that the process would be mandatory for those left out of the final NRC.

The citizenship cut-off date for the NRC update process in Assam was carried out as per the exclusive date set for the border state – March 24, 1971. The FTs are to give an opinion based on the Foreigners’ Act, 1946 and the Passport Act, 1967.

According to a Times of India report, the MHA inserted the provision into the order on October 5. The news report, quoting an MHA official said, “Under the Foreigners (Tribunals) order amended on Saturday, for sub-para 6, the following has been substituted: ‘In case no appeal is preferred…the District Magistrate may refer to the Tribunal for its opinion the question as to whether the person is a foreigner or not’.”

It said that the new provision would “leave no scope for non-determination of status of those left out of the NRC”, “irrespective of whether the aggrieved party approaches the tribunal”.

In September, representative bodies of Assam’s Gorkha community, widely considered to be BJP voters, declared at a press meet in Guwahati that those from the community who are not in the final NRC would not file an appeal in the FTs. The leaders demanded amnesty based on a 2018 MHA notification which reportedly said that members of the Gorkha community fulfilling any of the conditions laid down in Article 5 of the Constitution shall be considered Indian citizens, and not be referred to an FT.

Many Bengali Hindu organisations in Assam have also demanded that the Centre bring in a provision to grant them amnesty from filing an appeal in the Tribunals. This community also forms a large portion of the BJP’s voter base in the state.

Of the more than 40 lakh people who were excluded in the final draft NRC that was released in July 2018, only 31.2 lakh had chosen to reapply for inclusion in the final NRC.