221 new tribunal members to oversee 'foreigner' cases

People stand in a queue to check their names on the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in an office in Pavakati village of Morigoan district, some 70 km from Guwahati, Assam. AFP file photo

The Assam government has appointed 221 members of foreigner tribunals to deal with petitions to be filed by over 19.06 lakh applicants, who were left out of the updated list of National Register of Citizens (NRC).

A notification issued by the state home and political department on Wednesday said the members have been appointed for one year. Those left out of the NRC would have to move the tribunals within 120-days from the receipt of a notice from the NRC office with the reason for their exclusion from the citizens' list.

The left-out applicants will have to prove with documents in the tribunals that they or their forefathers lived in Assam on or before March 24, 1971. The cut-off date was fixed in 1985 to segregate citizens from "foreigners" illegally living in Assam.

Foreigner Tribunals, the quasi-judicial bodies were set up under Foreigner (Tribunals) Order, 1964 to dispose off cases related to suspected foreigners and 'D' (doubtful) voters. The 'D' voter is a term coined by the Election Commission in 1997 when it had tagged 1.25 lakh voters as 'D voters and barred them from casting votes. The 'D' voters were also barred from applying for inclusion in the updated NRC, final list of which was released on August 31.

Assam at present has 100 such tribunals but the state government decided to set up 200 additional tribunals to deal with cases to be filed by those left out of the NRC. The state home department said the new tribunals will be operational by October.

The Gauhati High Court had selected the panel of 221 members for the new tribunals in August, days before the final list of NRC was released. The high court notification said the new panel members are retired judicial officers, experienced advocates and retired civil servants.

Earlier, only retired judges and advocates above 55 years of age and 10 years of experience were eligible for appointment as a member of foreigner tribunals.

Although there has been no notification about the time frame for disposal of petitions to be filed by those left out of the NRC, sources said the state government wants to do the same within five years. 

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