“Assam’s NRC: A Stirring Revelation of Legal Struggles, Humanitarian Dilemmas, and the Battle for Identity Amidst the Chaos of India’s Northeast”


The National Register of Citizen (NRC) is a controversial endeavour decreed by the Government of India to identify Indian Citizen residing within the country and detect undocumented, illegal immigrants, especially in Assam where the issues of illegal immigrants are abiding. This article delves into a detailed review and the implementation of NRC in Assam. It scrupulously inspects the pertinent legislation, traces the eligibility prerequisites, and traces the daunting challenges stumbled upon throughout the implementation phase. Furthermore, this article delves into a multifaceted realm of the NRC elucidating its profound social, political, and human rights repercussions. By exploring through the complexities around the implementation of NRC, this article strives to provide a meticulous understanding of its implications within the broader societal context.


Assam, a state nestled in the North-Eastern region of India, holds a rich tapestry of migration and undetected, undocumented, and illegal immigrants throughout the state. The NRC process was a collaborative effort of the Government of India, Supreme Court of India, the Registrar General of India, and other Governmental bodies to ensure the smooth and well managed implementation of the NRC. Aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 catalysed intensified concerns about the influx of immigrants from Bangladesh to Assam who were entering Assam without proper documentation or authorization. In response to the elevating concerns of the illegal migration, the Assam accord was inked in 1985, serving as a crucial agreement between the Government of India and the student leaders. The Assam accord emphasized on expelling people who were considered foreigners, especially those who infiltered Assam post the crucial date of 24th March, 1971. One of the most significant movements, Post-Colonial India was the Assam Movement mainly led by the students of Assam. The movement was started in the year 1979 by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), aiming to address the concerns about the illegal immigrants. It lingered for a long period of sustained protests, political instability, and occasional ethnic violence for six years. The movement concluded in the signing of the Assam accord in the year 1985. This agreement between the Government of India and the movement leaders established a framework to identify and deport the illegal immigrants in Assam. The patrimony of the movement was marked by the sacrifice of approximately 860 lives (according to the AASU) who died in the pursuit of the “Infiltration-Free Assam” in the year 1979-1985 Assam agitation[1].

It is within the historical aspect that the NRC emerged as a critical mechanism aimed at tussling with the complexities of illegal immigration. Deliberated as a tool of for identifying the illegal, undocumented, and unauthorized immigrants in Assam, the implementation of the NRC holds esoteric repercussions for the demographic medley, political domain, and the societal fabric of the state.  The NRC strives to draw a clear line between the bona-fide Indian citizens and the illegal immigrants of the state offering legal validation to the former while expatriating the latter.

Thus, the implementation of the NRC outstrips the domain of the administrative process, assuming a wrap of dominance in shaping the state’s socio-political landscape.

Legal Framework

The legal framework of citizenship and immigration in India is outlined through a series of legislative enactments, each playing a crucial role in shaping the silhouette of citizenship determination and immigration regulation.

  1. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 1955 stands as the cornerstone of the citizenship framework of India, providing a comprehensive structure governing the acquisition, renunciation, and the determination of the citizens of India. Encompassing its purview, the CAA outlines methods such as the birthright, descent, registration, and the naturalization of the citizens of India for acquiring the Indian Citizenship. The CAA sets forth the criteria and procedural mechanism which enables individuals to attain the citizenship of India, thereby forming the bedrock of citizenship in the country. Recently, the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was passed on 19th December, 2019, in the upper house of the parliament which was duly approved by the lower house of the parliament prior, with a vote of 125 in favour and 105 members against the same. Under the provisions which are amended, the illegal immigrants who have pierced through the borders of India without proper authorization, valid passports or identification documents or have proper authorization, valid passports or identification documents but have stayed beyond the permitted duration are tagged as foreigners. Such foreigners are subjected to deportation or imprisonment as per law.[2]
  2. The Foreigners’ Act of 1946 endows the Government with the jurisdiction to regulate the entry, stay and egress of the non-citizens of India from the country. This legislation empowers the Government to institute measures for controlling the influx of the foreigners in the country and their repatriation in instances of prolonged stay in the country as well as the unlawful entry in the country. Thus, the foreigners’ Act serves a crucial role in managing immigration and fortifying the national borders.
  3. The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of 1983, was enacted due to the elevated concerns of illegal immigration into Assam to address the challenge faced by the state in tracing and deporting the illegal immigrants from the state. This legislation established special tribunals, also known as the Foreigners Tribunals, which adjudicated the disputes related to the citizenship of India and detecting the status of the individuals who are under the suspicion of being the illegal immigrants in the country. In a nutshell, this act played a crucial role in detecting and repatriating the illegal immigrants, especially in Assam.[3]

Collectively, these laws constitute the legal framework for India’s citizenship and immigration policies. These laws play a crucial role, especially in Assam due to its shared borders with neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, leading to the concerns relating to the illegal immigration over the years.

Implementation Process

The scrupulous implementation process of the implementation of the NRC in Assam unfolded a sequence of clearly defined stages, each crucial for the maintenance of precision and fairness.

  1. Preparation and Publication of Draft NRC

The initiation of the NRC in Assam marked the beginning of a thorough enumeration effort aiming to determine the residency status of an individual residing within the Assam region. This juncture involved collection of documentation to verify the credential of citizenship. The initial version of the draft was revealed in December,2017, indicating the official onset of the process. Subsequent drafts were unveiled demonstrating a scrupulous approach towards retrieving the details of each individual.

  1. Claims and Objections

Post the publication of the NRC draft list, a critical phase ensued allowing individuals to rectify any inaccuracies or raise objections regarding any wrongful insertion. This phase involved extensive scrutiny and verification of the documents submitted by the individuals. It aimed at upholding the accuracy of the register.

  1. Finalization of NRC

The process of the NRC update arrived at its conclusion when the final list was published in August, 2019. This contained the names of the individuals who, based on the stringent criteria fixed by the NRC authorities, were recognised as well as categorised as Indian Citizens. Those individuals who were omitted from the list were given a leverage to appeal their cases before the appropriate Foreigners’ Tribunals, ensuring due process and recourse.

  1. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Throughout the process of implementation of the NRC, the authorities of the NRC scrupulously outlined the criteria governing both the inclusion and the exclusion from the register. These criteria leaned on the submission and verification of various documents including the birth certificates, voters’ list and land records of the individuals. Despite the aim for ensuring accuracy in the process, it faced criticism for being way too complex and burdened the marginalized communities disproportionately.

The implementation of the NRC in Assam highlighted a strenuous effort to address the lingering concerns regarding the citizenship and immigration, amidst the challenges and scrutiny. It aimed at achieving a balance between the thorough documentation and ensuring equal access to the citizenship status incorporating fairness.


The implementation of the NRC in Assam faced a multitude of procedural, legal and administrative challenges, and humanitarian concern.

  1. Procedural Challenges

The NRC update process faced a lot of procedural challenges ranging from logistical impediments such as delays and technical glitches to documental inconsistencies. These challenges were further exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure and trained personnels. It further complicated the already complex process of verifying the citizenship status. The insufficiency in the infrastructure presented a major obstacle as the number of documents were enormous.

  1. Legal Challenges

One of the significant obstacles were the legal challenges, casting doubts on the transparency and fairness of the process of verification. Issues regarding the legitimacy of the citizenship claims led to litigation for a prolonged period, as the aggrieved parties sought appeal regarding their inclusion and exclusion from the register.

  1. Administrative Challenges

The gauzy scale of collection and verification of data posed daunting administrative challenges. Overwhelmed by the surge in application and the critical need for scrupulous scrutiny, administrative capabilities were strained resulting in bottlenecks and delays in processing. Effectively managing this mammoth demanded innovative solutions to streamline operations and accelerate the process of verification.

  1. Humanitarian Concerns

The implementation of the NRC precipitated a significant humanitarian concern, particularly relating to the situation of individuals excluded from the final list. The vulnerable communities were majorly concerned about the detention and deportation from the country, leading to their insecurities. There was a continuous threat of displacement and marginalization which required a right-based approach to hold up the Humanitarian fall out of the NRC implementation.

 International Perspective

  1. The NRC in Assam was compared with the analogous exercises in other Countries such as Myanmar’s National Population Register and Nepal’s Census-Based Citizenship Verification. These comparisons elucidated various methods for the purpose of citizenship determination and their potential implications.
  2. The NRC in Assam garnered international attention with Human Rights Organisations and Foreign Administrations closely monitoring proceedings. Apprehensions were raised regarding the potential humanitarian fallout and its impact on regional equilibrium.

Case Laws

 The case of Assam Public Works Vs. The Union of India & Ors. WP(C) 274/2009 (J R. G., 2019), with the Five-bench quorum consisting of CJI D Y Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant, Justice M.M. Sundresh, Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice Manoj Mishra, the petitioners being the Assam Public Works, through their counsel Advocate Mukul Kumar and the respondents being the Union of India, the State of Assam, the Election Commission of India, the Asom Gana Parishad, the Citizens Rights Preservation Committee and Dr. Himanta Biswa Sharma.

The key issues of this case are as follows-

  1. Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act grants citizenship arbitrarily?
  2. Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act dilute the political rights of the Assamese Citizens?
  3. Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act violate the right to equality under the Article 14 of the Constitution of India?
  4. Whether Section 6A of the Citizenship Amendment Act violate the Rule of Law since it provides a way to political expediency and not to the Government?
  5. Whether a throng of migrants who have enjoyed citizenship rights for over 40 years be granted relied in the said case?
  6. Whether the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act of 1950 be solely applied to the illegal immigrants of Assam while excluding the general Foreigners Act and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964?

The Legal Provisions of this case includes –

  1. Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution of India[4]
  2. Article 21 (Right to life and Personal Liberty) of the Constitution of India[5]
  3. Article 355 (Duty of the union to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbances)[6]
  4. Foreigners’ Act, 1946 – This act states the provisions related to the detention, detection, deportation, and other such related matters concerning the foreigners residing in India illegally.
  5. Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983 – This act states the provisions for establishment of Tribunals for determining the status of the illegal migrants in Assam.

Judgment of the Court

The court observed that the updating process of the NRC was a prominent step towards handling the issues of the illegal migration in Assam. However, it was observant by the court that the implementation of the NRC had a lot of deficiency and challenges including delays, errors and the elimination of the genuine Indian Citizens from the list.

The court in its judgment directed that the State Government of Assam and the Government of India are to take necessary steps in the completion of the NRC updating process within a limited period of time and ensure that the genuine citizens of India are not omitted from the final list.[7]

The case of Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha Vs. Union of India WP (Civil) No. 274 of 2009, (J R. N., 2014) consisted of a bench including Justice R.F. Nariman and Justice Ranjan Gogoi dealt with the constitutional validity of the NRC and the issues related with the implementation of the NRC. The Supreme Court of India observed that the Article 355 of the Constitution of India had been violated and that the Union had failed to protect the State of Assam from the external aggression and the internal disturbances created by huge number of illegal immigrants piercing through the border of the State from Bangladesh to Assam. The court also observed that the 1983 act was violative of the Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. The Court in the end, directed the state for a fair and transparent NRC process. [8]


The implementation of NRC in Assam encountered numerous challenges spanning logistical hurdles to socio-political tensions. While it intended to address the issue of illegal immigration, its effects on the marginalised communities and civil liberties prompted serious concerns about its efficacy and equity.

Moving forward, there is a pressing demand for more inclusive and transparent approach for the determination of the citizens in Assam. Policy reforms, coupled with initiatives safeguarding human rights and fostering communal harmony are essential for tackling the underlying causes of the unlawful immigration in the country while ensuring the principles of Justice and Equality.

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Written by – Sruti Sikha Maharana


J, R. G. (2019, August 13). Indian Kanoon. Retrieved from IndianKanoon.org: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/135202420/

J, R. N. (2014, December 17). Indian Kanoon. Retrieved from IndianKanoon.org: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/50798357/

[1] https://assamaccord.assam.gov.in/portlets/martyrs-of-assam-agitation

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50670393

[3] https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/40-years-ago/february-03-forty-years-ago-assams-tribunal-act-9141497/

[4] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/367586/

[5] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1199182/

[6] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/490234/

[7] https://www.livelaw.in/pdf_upload/pdf_upload-363121.pdf

[8] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/2271297/