‘Citizenship eligibility is not family-based’

Print edition : August 31, 2018

Prateek Hajela. Photo: BIJU BORO/AFP

Interview with Prateek Hajela, State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens in Assam.

Prateek Hajela, State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens in Assam, has become the focus of attention in connection with the updating of the citizens’ register. Hajela, a B.Tech (Electronics Engineering) graduate from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi and an officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre of the Indian Administrative Service, has played a key role in shaping this gigantic technology-driven exercise. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

What are the different categories of people whose names have been excluded from the complete draft?

As you are aware, the eligibility criterion is to be able to establish a linkage of one’s own [self] with that of his or her ancestors up to March 24, 1971, midnight. That is, to prove that the ancestor was residing in any part of India up to March 24, 1971. If people have not been able to establish this so far based on the various verification processes we have undertaken, their names have not appeared. [Either] a valid pre-1971 document has not been submitted or they have not been able to establish relations with that person, or the person is covered under the Supreme Court judgment of December 6, 2017, for panchayat secretary certificates and exhaustive verification that the court ordered and they have not been able to prove their eligibility in that exhaustive verification. Then if the person is a “D” voter or someone whose reference is pending before foreigners tribunals, then the person and his or her descendants cannot be included.

There are apprehensions that errors in updating the NRC may lead to the breakup of families because in several families the names of some members have been excluded in the complete draft. How do you allay such fears?

Citizenship eligibility is individual. Each person must prove his or her own citizenship eligibility. It is not family based. Family is important, but it is not family based. Now, the husband can be a pre-71 person and the wife may not be a pre-71 person. Similarly, the wife can be a pre-71 person and the husband may not be a pre-71 person. So, it is not based on marriage. It is based on descendance. The wife has to prove her descendance with her ancestor separately. The husband has to prove his descendance with his ancestor separately. Similarly, children also have to prove their linkages with their parents.

The Supreme Court has allowed the submission of certificates issued by panchayat secretary/Executive Magistrate as linkage documents in the case of married women. There are allegations that the names of many women who submitted such certificates have been excluded from the complete draft.

The Supreme Court says that these documents have to be subjected to exhaustive verification and only when the content of the document, that is, the linkage which is sought to be certified by the document, is proven between a married woman and her parent then only that can be accepted. And, for this purpose they had enunciated a procedure to be adopted, which consists of authenticity—the issuing authority says, yes, I have issued it; then the authority says that we have issued it on whatever evidence was placed before them; third is the opportunity provided to the woman to prove that she is the daughter of the person. We called the married woman and the officers who issued those [documents] together to a location which is close to the woman’s residence so that it is easy for her to produce evidence, which can also be in the form of oral evidence. This is the system carried out, and a large number of such cases have been admitted also.

What led to the innovation of family tree verification and how effective was it?

The family tree mechanism has been very effective. The crux of the entire exercise is descendance based on people who are living here or resided at any point of time before March 24, 1971. The names of such persons have been available in the public domain for a very long period of time. It is possible, and it has come out, that there is a fair number again, I will say, of persons who tried to show such persons as ancestors who are not actually their ancestors. In order to ensure that such things don’t happen and also to ensure, in the first place, that we are able to find out if there are consistencies or not of such variety, the NRC authorities took statements of siblings beforehand. Everybody had to declare his or her siblings and also nieces and nephews. All statements of all persons applying with one person as their ancestor were cross-matched. Wherever we found mismatches we asked these people to appear together at one location. The impostor gets identified. This way we found a fair number of people trying to use somebody else’s legacy mischievously. Our officers found that documents were authentic, certificates submitted to establish linkage are not forged documents, but the content of the documents is incorrect. In our NRC system, we did not just look at authenticity, we also looked at the contents.

Once the family tree brought this thing to light among the officers they became very careful also about checking the contents of the documents. That has brought in a lot of accuracy also and not allowed impostors to get into the NRC list. The family tree is an important tool to bring in accuracy. I developed this tool and we also educated the public about it and it was also helpful in establishing correctness.

Will those included in the final NRC be issued any certificates or an identity card?

The issue of national identity cards has been there, but nothing has been planned as of now. It is a humongous process. Let us reach that stage. It is a possibility.