The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the deadline for publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam from July 31 to August 31, 2019.
A Special Bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton F. Nariman, however, did not accede to the “fervent” pleas of the Union and Assam governments to conduct a “sample reverification” of the names included in and excluded from the draft NRC published on July 30 last.
Both the governments, in identical but separate applications to the court, said many names have been wrongly included and excluded from the draft NRC, and a sample reverification had become necessary to quell the “growing perception” that lakhs of illegal immigrants may have infiltrated the list, especially in districts bordering Bangladesh.
“This is too great a matter... People's lives will be affected. We have to be 100% right. There cannot be a speck of doubt on the entirety of the NRC exercise... The error percentage in the border districts is just over 7%, while in other districts the average is over 12%,” Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court.
He said the low error percentage in the border districts was suspicious, especially when over the years these areas had seen people cross the border illegally and settle down in the State, thus spoiling the opportunity of the natives to make a life for themselves.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta for Assam said the proposed sample reverification would only take the extended time the court had given till August 31. “It will not harm anybody and will give everybody satisfaction,” he submitted.
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But the court refused the plea, banking on a July 18 report of the court-appointed NRC Coordinator, Prateek Hajela, that reverification had been done on a district-wise basis during the adjudication of claims.
"Mr Hajela, the Centre and Assam have made vehement, fervent pleas for a sample reverification. You tell us, as an officer of the court, if this is necessary?" Chief Justice Gogoi asked him.
Coordinator does not see the necessity
“No, I do not see the necessity,” he replied.
The CJI said the court was “more than satisfied” from Mr. Hajela's conclusion that a reverification is not necessary.
When Mr. Venugopal repeated that the matter affected lives in the State, the CJI said, “everything we do affects lives.”
The Centre and Assam had urged the court for a 20% sample reverification of names included in the draft in the districts bordering Bangladesh and a 10% sample reverification in the remaining districts of the State.
Even in the last hearing, the court orally voiced its scepticism about the plea, pointing out that “Mr. Hajela's report said, while disposing of claims, 80 lakh names were reverified.”
The court had said reverification of 80 lakh names would be mean that at least 27% of names were covered.
“And you are asking for 20%... So, is there need for a sample reverification. If we are satisfied that verification has been done properly, then there is no need for a sample reverification, is it?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Mehta then.
The Assam government, represented by advocate Shuvodeep Roy, had said the 20% sample reverification should target the border districts where the incidence of illegal migration from Bangladesh was higher and where population growth has been reported higher than the State average as per census reports.
The application filed by the Ministry of Home Affairs had tried to impress upon the court the “unprecedented large scale of complexities” involved in the NRC process.
The draft NRC had included 2,89,83677 persons in the State 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 reverification should be done for both inclusions and exclusions.