India cannot be refugee capital of world: Centre
“India cannot be the refugee capital of the world,” Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court as the central government emphasised the need for a large-scale re-verification exercise before the final National Citizens Register (NRC) for Assam is published.
The government, which contends that the names of several illegal immigrants have been included in the list, and those of several citizens left out, has called for tweaks in the process and sought the deadline for the completion of the process to be extended beyond July 31.
“There is a growing perception that many inclusions and exclusions in NRC are wrong... The quantum of people involved would be in lakhs and so, more time is needed to re-verify,” Mehta told a special bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi that was hearing the matter related to the Centre and the state’s applications asking the court for a larger re-verification exercise.
“India cannot be the refugee capital of world. A re-look at the process by sample verification is required,” Mehta said. A sample re-verification of at least 20% of the people included in the list from the districts bordering Bangladesh is required, he submitted to the bench that also includes justice RF Nariman. The Centre is also seeking a 10% re-verification in other districts.
The court, referring to NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela’s report on the re-verification exercise carried out so far, said 8 million people have been automatically re-verified so far. This translates into 27%, higher than the 20% demand by the government, the court observed.
Mehta, however, contradicted Hajela’s report, and contended that it did not reflect the real situation on the ground. He said the names of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants have crept into NRC and those of several genuine citizens have been left out.
Hajela, too, asked for an extension of the deadline but on the grounds that the flood in Assam has paralysed work in the state. The bench asked Hajela to provide a copy of his status report on the re-verifications completed so far to Mehta, who was asked to respond by July 23. The court also allowed Hajela to redact some portions of the report, which he said were “sensitive”.
The Assam government’s counsel Shuvodeep Roy seconded the demand for a 20% re-verification in districts bordering Bangladesh.
The draft NRC list, published on July 30 last year, contained 28,963,877 names and left out over 4 million people as ineligible for inclusion. The preparation of the list was undertaken in 2013 on the Supreme Court’s orders, with the objective of identifying and deporting illegal immigrants. Its origin dates back to the Assam Accord of 1985, according to which all illegal aliens who entered the state between January 1966 and March 1971 would be disenfranchised for 10 years, and those who came after March 1971 would be deported.
The register of citizens is being updated in Assam to include only those who are able to prove that they or their forefathers were in Assam before March 24, 1971.
According to Supreme Court advocate Gyanant Singh, if the state and Centre have raised doubts, then re-verification should be conducted, especially on account of the fallout of the exercise undertaken to prepare the NRC list.
“The state and the central government don’t want to publish NRC and that is why they are resorting to such petitions of re-verification. Six to seven rounds of re-certification have already happened in the NRC process. If the state government knew the details of illegal persons who have been included in NRC, why did it not share their details with the NRC officials earlier? It has been one year since the NRC draft was published,” said Azizur Rehman, adviser, All Assam Minority Students Union.