National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the State of Assam: Legalities and Controversies


The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has been a controversial exercise aimed at identifying illegal immigrants in the state. The final NRC list published in 2019 excluded over 19 lakh applicants, sparking debates around due process, citizenship rights and national security.[1] This blog analyzes the legal issues and controversies surrounding the NRC in Assam.


Migration and Demographic Changes
Assam has historically witnessed large-scale migration from present-day Bangladesh, altering the state’s demographic composition over decades. While the 1951 Census showed Assamese as the majority community, subsequent Census data indicated rapid growth of Bengali Muslim population.[2] Illegal immigration emerged as a volatile political issue, eventually culminating in the Assam Movement.

Assam Movement and Assam Accord
The Assam Movement (1979-1985) was a popular agitation against illegal immigrants led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU).[3] It demanded identification and deportation of illegal migrants, especially post-1971 entrants. The agitation ended with the signing of Assam Accord in 1985 between AASU, Government and other stakeholders. The Accord set March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date, and called for revision of electoral rolls, deletion of foreigners’ names and constitutional safeguards for indigenous Assamese.[4]

Genesis of NRC
The NRC has its roots in the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003.[5] It is a register maintaining details of Indian citizens in Assam. Updation of NRC was a key clause of the Assam Accord. However, this was not implemented for decades due to administrative lethargy and political disputes over terms of implementation.[6]

Role of Supreme Court
The Supreme Court intervened in 2013 by taking suo moto cognizance of a PIL filed by NGO Assam Public Works, and ordered commencement of the NRC update process.[7] It monitored the NRC process and set deadlines for completion of various stages. The final NRC list was published on 31 August 2019 under direct supervision of the Supreme Court.

NRC Update Process

Timeline: The NRC update process officially started in 2013 per Supreme Court orders. The first draft NRC was published on 31 December 2017, followed by a second draft on 30 July 2018. The final draft was released on 26 June 2019. The final NRC list was published on 31 August 2019.[8]

Verification Process: The verification process relied on checking documents submitted by applicants as proof of citizenship. The documents included NRC 1951, Electoral Rolls upto 1971, Birth Certificates, Land Records etc. The applications were digitized and biometrics captured at NRC Seva Kendras.[9] Verification involved cross-checking documents across various databases.

Draft Publication: The first draft NRC incorporated 1.9 crore names out of 3.29 crore applicants. The second draft included 2.89 crore names. The final draft had 2.9 crore names, excluding 40 lakh applicants. The final NRC list contained 3.11 crore names, excluding 19 lakh applicants.[10]

Key Legal Issues and Controversies

Due Process Concerns: Many genuine citizens were left out of the NRC due to administrative errors, inability to provide proper documents, mismatch in spellings etc. The complex appeal process also made it difficult for poor, illiterate people to get their citizenship restored.[11] Lack of transparency and inconsistencies in the verification process raised serious due process concerns.

Risk of Statelessness: Those excluded from NRC face the risk of being declared illegal immigrants and rendered stateless. India has no treaty with Bangladesh to deport illegal immigrants.[12] If India cannot deport them, it may end up creating a large population of stateless people devoid of basic rights.

Re-verification Demands: Assam Government has demanded re-verification of 20% names in districts bordering Bangladesh alleging inclusion of illegal immigrants through false documents.[13] The Supreme Court has rejected blanket re-verification but allowed sample checks in certain areas. Critics argue that selective re-verification without concrete evidence will only exacerbate errors.

Citizenship Amendment Act 2019: The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Many feel this undermines Assam Accord’s cut-off date for detection of illegal immigrants. There are concerns that excluded NRC applicants may get backdoor citizenship under CAA.[14]

Feasibility of Nationwide NRC: Home Minister Amit Shah has proposed a pan-India NRC. But the flawed Assam NRC process raises doubts about the feasibility of nationwide NRC. It will be a massive logistical and financial burden with serious human costs.[15] Lessons from Assam NRC must be incorporated before even contemplating nationwide NRC.

Analysis and Recommendations

Evaluating Assam NRC: The Assam NRC has managed to update the citizenship register. But procedural infirmities led to large-scale exclusion errors. Lack of post-NRC planning also creates risks of statelessness and human rights violations. It has deepened ethno-linguistic faultlines without fully settling the foreigner debate.

Addressing Legal Issues: The fundamental legal issue is balancing national security with human rights. Exclusion from citizenship register is a severe deprivation of rights. The process must be fair, transparent and provide effective remedies against arbitrary exclusion. Any proposed nationwide NRC must first address these concerns.

Reforms and Way Forward: Some recommended reforms include wider consultation with stakeholders, improving appeal mechanisms, allowing re-application by excluded persons, ensuring proper legal aid to deprived sections, and post-NRC human rights safeguards.[16] The CAA rules should also align with Assam Accord’s cut-off date. Deportation efforts should continue alongside the NRC process based on fair procedures.

Assessing Nationwide NRC: A nationwide NRC as complex as Assam is unfeasible. A targeted NRC in selected border regions is a possibility. However, the utility is doubtful given the resource costs. Any future NRC must be preceded by process reforms, capacity building and assessing Assam lessons. Voluntary self-registration may be explored over coercive imposition of NRC.


The NRC in Assam was a flawed attempt to tackle a complex issue. It raises critical questions about balancing national security, human rights and federalism. While protecting citizens from illegal immigration is a valid aim, the human and social costs cannot be ignored. With nationwide NRC as a possibility, India must carefully analyze the Assam experience and evolve a legally sound, humane and non-discriminatory approach.


[1] Anupam Chakravartty, “What is the Assam NRC list and why has it created problems?” (The Wire, 1 September 2019)

[2] Sanjib Baruah, “Immigration, ethnic conflict, and political turmoil-Assam, 1979-1985” (University of California Press, 1993)

[3] Mrinal Talukdar, “Memories of the Assam Movement” (Economic and Political Weekly, 9 April 2016)

[4] Assam Accord (1985)

[5] The Citizenship Act 1955; The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003

[6] Abhishek Saha, “Explained: What is the Assam NRC, and what happens next?” (The Indian Express, 31 August 2019)

[7] Assam Public Works v Union of India (2013) 15 SCC 599

[8] Abhishek Saha, “Explained: What is the Assam NRC, and what happens next?” (The Indian Express, 31 August 2019)

[9] Rohini Mohan, “India’s Assam Citizenship Scare is Over—But for Its ‘Stateless’ the Crisis Isn’t” (Time, 10 September 2019)

[10] Ibid

[11] Ipsita Chakravarty, “Full text: Arundhati Roy on why Amit Shah’s NPR and NRC are ‘deeply dangerous'” (, 25 December 2019)

[12] Rohini Mohan, “India’s Assam Citizenship Scare is Over—But for Its ‘Stateless’ the Crisis Isn’t” (Time, 10 September 2019)

[13] Rahul Karmakar, “Why Assam is unhappy with the NRC list” (The Hindu, 2 September 2019)

[14] Aman Wadud, “India’s new citizenship act and national register of citizens are both inspired by hatred for Muslims” (The Conversation, 19 December 2019)

[15] Mrinal Talukdar, “Nationwide NRC: A case of putting the cart before the horse” (The Hindu, 2 January 2020)

[16] Subir Bhaumik, “How to defend rights in Assam after NRC” (ORF Online, 23 September 2019)

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