The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed authorities to not initiate any ‘action’ against 40 lakh persons left out of the draft Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) published on July 30.
The Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Nariman ordered the government, in consultation with State NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela, to frame a ‘fair’ standard operating procedure (SOP) to deal with the claims and objections of those who did not find their names in the draft NRC.
Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal informed the court that the Ministry concerned is working out the modalities of the SOP, which would “deal with the different dimensions of the exercise of hearing the claims and objections to ensure that the process is fair.”
Mr. Venugopal submitted that once the modalities are worked out, the SOP would be placed before the court by mid-August.
The AG submitted that the government is developing biometrics so that even if a declared foreigner escapes to another State, he or she would be caught there.
“We do not want to say anything about all that now. Now, we want everybody to get a fair opportunity, considering the complexities and numbers, etc, involved. You (government) place it before us. If it is fair, we will approve. If not, we will disapprove. If there is anything missing, we will fill it,” Justice Gogoi told Mr. Venugopal.
At one point, Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Hajela about “reading somewhere that the date for publishing the final NRC is December 31” this year. But Mr. Hajela denied this. “We have not fixed any date. It is for the court to fix a date. It (December 31) was only for the purpose of budgeting,” he said.
When asked ‘what ahead’, Mr. Hajela said time has been given till August 7 for people to ascertain their names in the NRC. From August 8, those excluded can approach the Local Registrar or the NRC Sewa Kendras to find out the reasons for their non-inclusion. Their claims and objections would be heard from August 30 to September 28.
Mr. Venugopal submitted that the government is “extremely concerned” about the next few days. He submitted that no coercive action would be taken against persons who have not figured in the draft NRC. The government attempted to even seek some assurance from the court.
“Well, we do not give assurances to anyone, we only pass orders. But we want fair opportunity for all,” Justice Gogoi observed.
The Bench said, at the moment, it would prefer to refrain from commenting on the draft NRC and wait for the government to submit its SOP for vetting.
“Our silence now is neither consent nor objection nor assurance,” Justice Gogoi observed.
Case posted for Aug. 16
The court posted the case for August 16 for further orders on timelines leading to the publication of the final NRC. The much-anticipated second and final draft of the NRC shows 2.9 crore names out of the total 3.29 crore who applied in Assam.
The names of 40.07 lakh applicants were not included in the historic document, considered proof of Assamese identity. The first draft NRC was published in the intervening night of December 31 and January 1 and showed the names of 1.9 crore people.