Assam citizenship: SC refuses to extend May 31 deadline for updating NRC

The top court, however, spared the Additional Deputy Commissioner–rank officer, currently engaged in NRC updating work, for the local bodies elections scheduled next month.

Updated - March 27, 2018 08:42 pm IST

Published - March 27, 2018 07:31 pm IST - New Delhi

 A woman carrying her son arrives to check her name on the draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at an NRC centre in Chandamari village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, January 2, 2018.

A woman carrying her son arrives to check her name on the draft list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) at an NRC centre in Chandamari village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, January 2, 2018.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to extend the May 31 deadline for the ongoing process of publishing the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam in the wake of panchayat elections in the State, saying the polls should not become an impediment.

The top court, however, spared the Additional Deputy Commissioner rank officer currently engaged in updating the NRC for the local bodies elections scheduled next month. “We have already said that the deadline for [updating] NRC is May 31 and the next 30 days for cross-checking of data till June 30. It can’t go beyond that and complete final draft should be ready by then. You deploy your surplus employees or request neighbouring States, but no employee engaged in NRC work can be spared or disturbed,” a Bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and R.F. Nariman said.

The Bench’s remark came after the State government said the panchayat elections were due next month and urged that the employees engaged in NRC work be allowed to be deployed for the polls. The NRC is being prepared to identify illegal migrants in Assam.

The Bench said it had no intention of interfering with the panchayat polls in the State and that they should be held as per schedule. But the polls shall not become impediment in the completion of the NRC, it added.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Assam, told the court that as per the Panchayat Constitution Rules of the State, the deputy commissioner is responsible for the elections but he was currently engaged in NRC work. “When we asked the deputy commissioner to work for polls, the State coordinator of NRC Prateek Hajela said it will be contempt of court as no officer can be engaged in any other work,” he said.

To this, the Bench said if there was a statutory requirement, then the additional deputy commissioners of each district could be spared for the local bodies’ election, but no other official can be allowed to do any other job other than updating the NRC.

The Bench asked all State governments, railways, banks, CBSE, UIDAI and Ministry of External Affairs to assist the NRC officials in verification of the records within the stipulated period.

Mr. Mehta said if the panchayat elections were delayed in Assam, then the State would lose a grant of ₹1000 crore, which can be given only if the elected local bodies are in place as per the recommendation of 14th Finance Commission.

During the hearing, the Bench also pulled up the Registrar General of India (RGI) for “putting spanners” in the work of updating the NRC.

“Mr. Attorney General, we have received a confidential report from our sources and have found that this gentleman is putting spanners in the work,” the Bench said.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, who was present in the courtroom, asked whether the court meant that the RGI was delaying the work. “Yes. We have received a confidential report regarding this. If that will be the case, we will not hesitate to direct for replacing the Registrar General of India,” the Bench said.

RGI Shailesh was also present in the courtroom when the Bench made the observation and warned him of the action. The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on May 8.

On February 20, the apex court had made it clear that the ongoing process of publishing the final NRC in Assam had to be completed by May 31 this year and work on it should continue without “any interference from any quarter”.

The Bench, while noting in its order that the final draft NRC would be completed by June 30, had also dealt with the issue of the upcoming panchayat and local body elections in Assam, which were due in for April this year.

The top court had said that the State election commission would conduct these elections as per schedule but the poll process should not cause the “slightest of interference in the publication of NRC”. It had said that the work of holding election will not be at the cost of upgradation and preparation of NRC.

The first draft NRC for Assam was published in December end as per the apex court’s direction to come out with it by December 31, 2017.

The apex court had said that the claims of those citizens whose names did not figure in the draft NRC for Assam that was published by December 31 last year would be scrutinised and included in the subsequent list, if found to be genuine.

The NRC of 1951 is being updated for Assam in accordance with the tripartite agreement among the State and central governments and the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was arrived at in 2005 to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.

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