NEW DELHI, JULY 19, 2019 (GIL):
Adjourns case to July 23
The Supreme Court on Friday questioned the plea made jointly by the Centre and Assam to indefinitely extend the deadline for publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) from July 31 in order to conduct a “sample re-verification” process to quell a “growing perception” that lakhs of illegal immigrants may have infiltrated the list, especially in districts of the State bordering Bangladesh.
The Centre and Assam urged the court for more time to cross-check “wrong inclusions and exclusions” in and from the draft NRC published on July 30, 2018.
They said a 20% sample re-verification of names included in the draft NRC of July 30 should be conducted in districts bordering Bangladesh and a 10% sample re-verification in the remaining districts of Assam.
But the court orally voiced scepticism. It referred to reports filed by Assam State NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela’s reports and said re-verification seemed to have been already done during the disposal of claims in the NRC process.
“Mr. Hajela’s report says while disposing of claims, 80 lakh names have been re-verified. That means at least 27% of names have been re-verified, and you are asking for 20%… So, is there a need for a sample re-verification? If we are satisfied that verification has been done properly, then there is no need for a sample re-verification, isn’t it?” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who is accompanied by Justice Rohinton Nariman on the Special Bench, asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for both Assam and the Centre.
Mr. Mehta said the findings in Mr. Hajela’s reports may not truly reflect the reality on the ground.
“There is a growing perception. They must have done excellent work, but mistakes have crept in. The quantum of people included in certain areas is more… Wrongful inclusions are manifold in the bordering districts, lakhs of illegal immigrants have been included in the draft NRC list. The problem is the border districts are more prevalent,” Mr. Mehta submitted.
He said the wrongful inclusions may be because local officers were used in the NRC process and they may have come under local influences.
“There should be proper re-verification… There should be no room for a lack of confidence in an NRC exercise that takes away the rights of the people and will uproot them. Though, of course, illegals should be uprooted as India cannot be the refugee capital of the world,” Mr. Mehta urged the court.
However, the Bench adjourned the case to July 23. It asked Mr. Mehta to go through what Mr. Hajela had to say on the issue of re-verification in his reports to the Supreme Court on July 10 and 18.
“Mr. Mehta, you are not the only fountain or source of information (about what is happening). We have our own sources of information and Mr. Hajela has his own,” Chief Justice Gogoi addressed the Solicitor General.
“I claim not to be a fountain of information, My Lord… And it should not be so,” Mr. Mehta responded.
The court asked Mr. Hajela to redact paragraphs in his reports that do not strictly deal with re-verification before handing them over to Mr. Mehta.
“There is no national secret in them that needs to be kept from the government,” Mr. Mehta protested lightly.
“Mr. Mehta, we wish to hear this statement from your lips in other cases too,” came Justice Nariman’s riposte.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hajela quoted from his report that supplementary lists containing the latest additions and exclusions made after the claims and objections stage could be published on July 31. This would be followed later by a consolidated list, he submitted.
The Assam government, also represented by advocate Shuvodeep Roy, said the 20% sample re-verification should target border districts, where incidence of illegal migration from Bangladesh was higher and where population growth had been reported higher than the State average as per Census reports.
Both the Centre and the State have said the re-verification exercise should be conducted by Class 1 officers of the State government from other districts who have knowledge and experience of handling the process of enquiry/investigation. The applications further sought an order that the sample re-verification should be undertaken at a place different from where the NRC exercise happened. The Assam government agreed that this would cut out the possibility of local influences, biases/threats and so on.
The application filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs tries to impress upon the court the “unprecedented large scale of complexities” involved in the NRC process. The Ministry informed the Supreme Court that the NRC exercise had created apprehensions in the minds of the citizens and could very well impact social harmony, law and order in the State. Tensions could rise with just a few days left before the culmination of the ongoing process of NRC.
“It is pertinent that the exercise of sample re-verification must necessarily follow before the publication of the final list,” the application said.
The draft NRC list, published on July 30 last year, had included 2,89,83,677 persons in Assam as Indian citizens. But a total of 40,70,707 persons were left out. They were found ineligible to be considered for inclusion. The Centre said re-verification should be done for both inclusions and exclusions.