Supreme Court pans Centre on Assam’s citizen register, says trying to destroy process
The Supreme Court on Tuesday pulled up the Centre over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam saying that the Union home ministry comes up with different stories to destroy the process.
The top court’s observation came on the home ministry’s plea for withdrawal of 167 companies of combined armed forces for two weeks from Assam as they will be deployed for elections. Rejecting the plea, a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the Centre is not cooperating and it seems the entire effort of the home ministry is to destroy the NRC process.
The government sought the suspension of the NRC exercise to which the court said “it is too much to ask for both.” The Supreme Court bench said elections and NRC can go on simultaneously. The court told the government that if it wanted the citizen register process to go on there were “1001 ways to do so”.
The SC asked the Election Commission to consider exempting certain state officers from election duty to ensure that the NRC process is not hampered
Over 4 million of the 32.9 million in Assam were left out of the NRC draft, released on July 30 last year. The Centre and the Assam government insisted that register is still a draft and that there is adequate recourse available to those not included.
The Supreme Court had extended the last date to file claims and objections on inclusion of names in the draft NRC from December 15 to December 31, 2018.
The Supreme Court had initially given the Assam government a deadline of December 15 to register the remaining people. The court had also allowed those left out of the draft NRC to use five more documents to prove their citizenship and be included in the final NRC. This, the state government, had claimed was putting additional burden on authorities to make the process of inclusion fool-proof.
The NRC, which was first prepared for Assam in 1951, is being updated at the insistence of the Supreme Court, although it has been a longstanding demand of most political organisations in the state. The register is aimed at distinguishing the state’s citizens from illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh. The first draft of the updated NRC, released on December 3, 2017 listed 19 million people.