Aadhaar uncertainty looms large over lakhs due to NRC limbo
Over eight lakh people in Assam are struggling to get their Aadhaar enrollments done as their biometrics were frozen during the updation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Notably, they all made it to the final list of the NRC published on August 31, 2019. Nineteen lakh others who didn't find their names in the final NRC are also facing the same issue.
At the core of the problem is a Supreme Court-approved Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The SOP made it mandatory that those left out of the draft NRC, published on July 31, 2018, submit their biometrics during the hearings of "claims"—for the inclusion in the NRC—and "objections"—object to someone's inclusion—process. This was done to track those who may get excluded from the NRC.
Clause 9 of the SOP stated, "Once the final NRC has been published, such persons who are included in the NRC, will be given the usual Aadhaar number as applicable to legal residents in the country."
However, the freezing of biometrics of those excluded from the draft NRC is linked to the delay in the process. An NRC official told The Indian Express that those appearing in the final list will be given Aadhaar. "But the NRC we have now is not final...so how can we share information on the applicant data? That will mean violating the SC order."
In fact, UIDAI officials at the Guwahati office confirmed that they cannot issue Aadhaar numbers "till a clarification is received from the RGI (Registrar General of India) and the matter is communicated to the UIDAI by Home and Political Department, Government of Assam." Kuldeep Pegu—Deputy Director at UIDAI, Guwahati—told TIE that the NRC biometric enrollment had been kept on hold following the SOP guidelines.
It has been almost two years since the publication of the final NRC list. However, the RGI has not notified it, and the SC, which supervised the process from 2013, has not heard the matter since January 2020. Both the BJP government and the NRC state coordinator have not accepted it either, and are currently jostling for a "corrected" NRC list.
HD Sarma, the NRC state coordinator, had submitted an affidavit to the Gauhati High Court last year, terming the final NRC list published in 2019 as a "supplementary" one, and sought the re-verification of the same.
After receiving multiple complaints, Sarma has reportedly written thrice to the state's Home and Political department since March 2020. In the latest letter, Sarma mentioned that Aadhaar numbers of around 26 lakh people have been blocked by the UIDAI as per the SC SOP. He also sought to file an affidavit before the SC, seeking relaxation of Para 9 of the SOP.
Meanwhile, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma told the state Assembly that the state government has taken up the matter with the RGI and the Union Home Secretary. "RGI has not made their stance clear on the NRC yet...till they do not declare it as the final NRC, our hands are tied," said an official from the Home and Political Department.
The NRC was prepared in Assam for the first time during the 1951 Census. However, the demand for its updation gained momentum as many sociopolitical organizations of the state expected it to solve the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants that has been prevalent in Assam for quite some time. The exercise was commenced in 2015 under the supervision of the Supreme Court.