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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

Supreme Court moves out Assam NRC chief, gives Centre 7 days to shift him to MP

A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the government to notify the transfer within seven days.

india Updated: Oct 19, 2019 03:56 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A woman checks for names in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on a printed sheet of paper in Pabhokati village in Morigaon district, Assam.
A woman checks for names in the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) on a printed sheet of paper in Pabhokati village in Morigaon district, Assam. (AP File Photo)
         

The Supreme Court Friday directed the Centre and the Assam government to transfer the National Register of Citizens (NRC) coordinator Prateek Hajela “forthwith” to Madhya Pradesh for the maximum period possible. The bench, however, did not give a reason for passing the order.

People familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Indian Administrative Service officer placed a personal request for his transfer in view of threats he has received following the NRC exercise that has excluded 1.9 million people. Hajela, from Madhya Pradesh, and a 1995 batch IAS officer from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, was appointed NRC coordinator by the top court in September 2013 to oversee the exercise of finalising the Assam NRC to weed out illegal immigrants in the state. A bench comprising chief justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices S A Bobde and R F Nariman ordered the inter-cadre transfer of Hajela on deputation to Madhya Pradesh “within seven days”.

Attorney general K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, sought to know the reason behind the order of the court, to which the CJI responded, “Can any order be passed without a cause or reason?”

“Upon hearing Mr. Prateek Hajela, learned State Coordinator, the learned Attorney General and the learned Solicitor General and taking into account the totality of the facts of the case, we order for the inter-cadre transfer of Mr. Hajela to the State of Madhya Pradesh on deputation for the maximum period permissible under the relevant rules/regulations,” the court ordered.

On July 23 this year, the apex court extended the deadline for publication of the final NRC by a month to August 31 and rejected the pleas of the Centre and the state government seeking permission for 20% sample re-verification.

The final NRC published on August 31 excluded 1.9 million people and provoked widespread criticism to the effect that it includes some of those who should have been excluded and excludes some of those who should have been included.

Two officials familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity that Hajela moved the SC for his transfer after he came under attack; three FIRs were filed against him by individuals and organisations after 1.9 million people were excluded from the final NRC list published on August 31. “It is not one development. See the overall environment in the state over the last few months,” said one of the officials cited above, who is directly involved in the NRC exercise.

“There are apprehensions that he (Hajela) may face harassment once the exercise is over and the Supreme Court protection goes. Look at the way FIRs were registered against him even though he was just doing his job,” said the second official. Hajela was not available for comment.

Reacting to the SC order, Assam Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Ranjit Dass, said: “We respect the SC order but we want to request the Centre and the state government that Hajela should not be relieved till he gives an account of the hundreds of crores of funds spent on the NRC. If necessary, the state government should move the SC.”

Chandra Mohan Patowary, senior cabinet minister and state government’s spokesperson, said the government will follow the SC order. He denied that there was any conflict between the state government and the NRC coordinator’s office.

Former chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who earlier wrote a letter to the CJI Ranjan Gogoi on NRC, said Hajela has failed to implement the SC direction in letter and spirit. “I don’t understand why instead of giving punishment the SC has transferred him,” he said. “The responsibility to make sure that all genuine citizens are included also lies with the Centre and the state government,” he added.

IG (Special Branch) Hiren Nath said the court has not asked the police for a report on the threat to Hajela. “There has been criticism against Hajela in the social media. Various organisations in Assam are vocal on the NRC with many speaking against it and the state coordinator,” Nath told news agency PTI. The next hearing in the case is on November 11, 2019. The CJI is retiring on November 17.

(With inputs from HTC, Guwahati)