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14 Months On, Indians in Citizenship Register Await Required Biometric IDs

Without the ID, people face difficulty in accessing government schemes. 

Guwahati, Assam — Despite an order from the Supreme Court, thousands of people whose names are listed in India’s National Register of Citizens have not received their biometric identification number 14 months later.

Officials said details of people whose name appeared in the register in 2019 have not yet been shared with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues the biometric IDs linked to a unique 12-digit number called Aadhaar.

This identification number allows access to several government schemes. People in the northeastern state of Assam who have not been issued their IDs have complained of facing difficulties in accessing these services.

“I am not able to withdraw money from my provident fund account,” said Nripendra Nath Das, a 38-year-old who works in a bank in Guwahati, Assam’s largest city.

Das applied for the ID in March 2019 when he visited a National Register of Citizens help center to testify for a family member who had not made it to the register’s draft list.

The National Register of Citizens, or NRC, is the register of Indian citizens residing in Assam. It is being updated on the orders of the Supreme Court for the first time since it was established in 1951. Local groups demanded the update to help identify illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

It has been 14 months since the register’s final list was published on Aug. 31, 2019, reducing the number of those excluded from 4 million (who were excluded from the draft list published in 2018) to around 2 million. Those whose names are in the registry still await their unique IDs.

The Supreme Court, which monitored the preparation of the register, n Nov. 1, 2018, approved a standard operating procedure to hear claims and objections.

This SOP, prepared by the Indian government in consultation with the state government of Assam and the office of the State Coordinator of the NRC, required that applicants who were part of the claims and objections hearings to submit their biometric details.  The state coordinator was responsible for executing the NRC hearings.

“During the hearings of the claims and objections, the state government and the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) will undertake the process of biometric enrollment of all the applicants under the NRC,” the SOP states.

The Home and Political Department of the Assam government was designated as the registrar for this enrollment.

According to documents reviewed by Zenger News, the UIDAI was to provide technical support for enrollment. It was decided that the data would be kept separately, and that the Aadhar would be kept on hold.

“Once the final register has been published, people who are included in it will be given the usual Aadhaar number as applicable to the legal residents in the country,” the SOP states.

As of August this year, the biometric enrollment agency responding to a Right to Information request stated that none of the applicants who had submitted their biometric information during the claims and objections phase had been issued their unique IDs.

“The state government has taken up the matter with the government of India particularly with the Registrar General of India, so that the biometric data, as well as registration numbers of those included in the final NRC, can be shared with the UIDAI and their Aadhaar numbers can be generated,” said Gyanendra Dev Tripathi, commissioner of Assam’s Home and Political Department.

Tripathi said the Registrar General of India’s office is examining the department’s request for sharing the application receipt numbers with the UIDAI to generate the IDs.

In a letter to the Registrar General in July, a copy of which was reviewed by Zenger News, Seema Rekha Bhuyan, secretary of Assam’s Home, and Political Department, cited the complaints from the applicants.

The letter also cited the enrollment agency authority’s views that they can generate the unique IDs only if they have the application receipt numbers of those who made it to the final list.

Bhuyan’s letter also included the views of Hitesh Dev Sarma, the state coordinator of the register, that Aadhaar can be issued to all applicants since the unique ID is not proof of citizenship.

However, in the letter in June, Sarma cited anomalies in the final list to the government. Sarma also wrote that the final NRC list had not yet been notified by the Registrar General of India.

Sarma declined to discuss the contents of his letter.

The register’s list published in 2019 has been controversial. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in Assam and New Delhi, demanded a re-verification, citing anomalies in it which have also been pointed out by Sarma.

The status of those who haven’t made it to the final list is in limbo. They are awaiting rejection slips, which would be the basis of their appeals against exclusion.

While the pandemic is one of the reasons for the delay, authorities recently told the Gauhati High Court  that they were not in a position to issue rejection slips because of several pending petitions seeking re-verification of the register’s records that must be addressed.

In October, Sarma had directed all districts to remove ineligible names from the final list.

Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judith Isacoff