TheAssam government will provide legal aid to the needy people from amongst thosewho have been excluded from the final list of the National Register of Citizens(NRC), according to the ministry of home affairs (MHA).
Ahead ofthe 19 lakh people contesting their exclusion from the National Register ofCitizens (NRC) in Foreigners' Tribunals, a mobile application developed by ajournalist-lawyer duo was launched to help those seeking legal assistance. OnOctober 1, NRC eHandbook, an Android app was launched to aid lawyers andparalegals who will be filing appeals for the NRC-excluded in Foreigners'Tribunals.
AGuwahati-based freelance journalist whodeveloped the app, along with advocate Mustafa Khaddam Hussain Shakil Ahmed said,"Not just lawyers, but our app-which is a repository of all kinds of documentationrelated to the NRC-will also be of use to anyone, be it a journalist or aresearcher, who wants to understand the NRC process."
Thefinal NRC list was published on August 31 and excluded 19,06,657 people out of3.3 crore applicants. Those left out have the option of contesting theirexclusions in quasi-judicial bodies called Foreigners' Tribunals, within 120days of receiving the rejection order. The Tribunals-currently 100 in number(while 200 new ones are being set up)-are the ultimate authority in determiningcitizenship in Assam, and have the discretion of sending people to detention centers,if they fail to prove that they are Indian. However, these courts haveincreasingly earned a negative reputation for their incorrect judgments, withthe Gauhati High Court recently indicting a Foreigners' Tribunal in Morigaondistrict for 57 wrong judgments.
Whilethe appeals process has not started yet, people are gearing up nonetheless.While five National Law Schools have collaborated to provide legal assistanceto those left out of the NRC through a platform called Parichay, the stategovernment has also announced that the District Legal Services Authorities(DLSA) will be providing free legal aid to the needy.
"Whenthe NRC authorities announce what the next step in the appeal process is, ourapp will guide people on how to proceed," says Ahmed, who has a degree inComputer Science. The app, which was developed along with advocate Hussain,legal advisor of the All Assam Minority Students' Union (AAMSU), is dividedinto different sections: SOPs and Modalities, Official Advertisements, Acts andRules, Gauhati High Court and Supreme Court Judgments, Communication andLetters, Relevant Documents, Upcoming Updates and Feedback. "So each sectionhas different kinds of documentation — whether it is a landmark SC judgment orspecific case or an advertisement issued by the NRC authority or a newspaperarticle," says Ahmed.
"Duringthe appeal process, all these documents will need to be cited. So our idea wasto create a quick legal guide people can refer to," says Ahmed. The duo hadinitially toyed with the idea of a website or a book. "But the latter wouldresult in 5-6 volumes so an app was the most feasible," says Hussain. While hislegal expertise came in handy to determining the concept and contents of theapp, Ahmed looked after the technical aspects.
Ahmed added,the app was formally launched on October 1 and has been available on GooglePlaystore since October 3. "In the past 6 days, we have had more than thousand downloadsand people calling in."
AbdulBatin Khandakar of the Brahmaputra Valley Civil Society, an NGO in Assam says, "Theapp is useful because it has the potential to serve as the go-to guide foranything NRC-related-circulars, notifications, rules and acts. So this willhelp advocates who need reference materials to file appeals,"
The appis running a trial version now and only 30% documents have been uploaded. Whileusers can read the material, printing or download options remain unavailable."Those will be made available soon. The other thing we are working on isprotecting certain documents with passwords. Some court judgements arenon-reportable, that is, they cannot be reproduced for reportage —to accessthose, the user will have to furnish an identity proof, after which we willprovide a password. This is so that such docents are not misused," explainsHussain.
The appis in English and aims to reach a wider audience. "Anyone who has any query —journalist, researcher, lawyer or just about anybody interested from any partof the world — can use our app. But our main aim is to end the ordeal ofgenuine Indian citizens who have been affected by this," says Ahmed.