The NRC (national register of citizens) exercise in Assam will see yet more delays after authorities postponed the issuing of rejection slips to the 19 lakh people excluded from the final list that was published in August last year. This process had been scheduled to start on Friday. As per sources the postponement is a precautionary measure brought on by fears over the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak in the country.
Assam has not yet reported COVID-19 cases, although two American tourists tested positive in Bhutan after travelling through the state. Contact tracing of the tourist couple led to the quarantine of over 420 Assam residents.
"The slips are ready but it was to be issued by local authorities in each district. However, they are busy with coronavirus preparations. Staff at NRC directorate are working from home," a senior official who requested not to be identified said.
"When the slips are issued, it might lead to many people rushing to government offices for certified copies of their documents. This might lead to large gatherings that needs to be avoided at this time," the official added.
Over 220 people have been infected in India and the deaths of at least four people have been linked to the virus. Medical experts have stressed on the need for social distancing - avoiding all possible physical contact - as a key means of stopping the virus' transmission.
NRC sources have said the process of handing out rejection slips is now expected to start sometime in the middle of next month, so long as the outbreak does not escalate.
India is currently in Stage 2 of the outbreak, meaning transmission is local and can be contained. Stage 3 is community transmission which leads to exponential growth in cases and makes it harder to travek the virus' spread.
The final NRC list in Assam was published in August 2019. Since then the fate of 19 lakh people has been in limbo as rejection slips have been delayed for one reason or the other.
It is only after these slips are issued that those excluded from the list can approach foreigners' tribunals to make their appeals and prove their Indian citizenship. They will be given a 120-day window for this appeal from the date of the slips.
Earlier, Assam parliamentary affairs minister Chandra Mohan Patowary, replying on behalf of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in the Assembly, said the slips would mention the reason for the person's exclusion from the final NRC and would be released on March 20.