Supreme Court pushes NRC deadline, says no to re-verification
The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the deadline for publication of the final National Citizens Register (NRC) for Assam by a month to August 31, but rejected the central and Assam government’s pleas to conduct 20% sample re-verification of the draft NRC in areas bordering Bangladesh.
The order for the extension of the deadline by a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton F Nariman, comes on an application by Prateek Hajela, NRC coordinator, on the grounds that floods in Assam have paralysed the state. The original deadline was July 31.
Rejecting the central and Assam government’s demand for a sample re-verification of at least 20% of the names included in the list from the districts bordering Bangladesh, the judges said: “The court doesn’t feel the need for re-verification of the draft NRC list; we are more than satisfied with the work done in the state.”
“We have taken note of (the) centre’s prayer for sample re-verification of limited percentage of wrongful inclusions and exclusions. Re-verification of 27% has already been done,” said the bench, repeating its observation from last week when, referring to NRC state coordinator Hajela’s report on the re-verification exercise carried out so far, it 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 then).
On Tuesday, attorney general KK Venugopal, appearing for the centre, stressed on the need for a re-verification exercise before the final National Citizens Register (NRC) is published, contending that several illegal immigrants have been included in the list.
Venugopal insisted that “in border districts, 7.7% people have been wrongly included and in other districts the number is as high as 12.7%. The re-verification process is to find if any wrong has been done.”
The centre, on the last date of hearing impressed on the court the same argument saying that India “cannot be the refugee capital of the world”.
A top government official familiar with NRC developments in Assam said the SC has also clarified that those who were born before December 3, 2004 (when the Citizenship Act was amended) and have legacy documents (proving residency in Assam before March 25, 1971) from a parent who is not a declared foreigner, doubtful voter or has a case pending in the Foreigners Tribunal should be included in NRC.
“The court order also says citizenship purely by birth and not by descendance is not eligible for inclusion in NRC,” the official added, asking not to be named.
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. It’s 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.
Santanu Bharali, legal advisor to Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal, said: “We have been asking since 2018 that a re-verification is necessary. But the court has rejected it and extended the deadline only on account of Prateek Hajela’s (State Coordinator, NRC) request. As a law abiding citizen, one has to accept the verdict of the court. Now the state government will deliberate on the next step.”
Ripun Bora, MP and president of the state unit of the Congress, said: “The delay, the fact that the NRC work could not be completed despite the SC setting the deadline last year, shows the state government’s incompetence. At the same time, if one month of extension is necessary in the interests of a defect free NRC, where no Indian citizen is left out and no foreigner is included, we have no problem.”