The Supreme Court of India.
New Delhi: The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has been a special initiative of the Supreme Court, with Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi having emphasised the unison between -- the Centre, the Assam government, the State Coordinator and his team -- to meet the stipulated deadline for publication of the Final NRC list.
The apex court has tried to shield the process from taking any political colour and even snubbed the criticism and statements made in the Assam Legislative Assembly on the process of the NRC.
The court had made it clear that the deadline of August 31, had to be adhered to by the State Coordinator Prateek Hajela, at any cost. The top court has also emphasised that an "appropriate regime", similar to Aadhaar, be enacted for the security of the NRC data.
Before this, the apex court had voiced its concerns fearing delay the publication of the Final NRC list. It pointed out that the state and the Central authorities concerned were apparently working in silos instead of sharing information, and it might culminate in a logjam affecting the publication of the Final NRC list.
The Centre and the Assam government had emphasised upon re-verification of 20 per cent of the draft NRC data to rule out any discrepancies after authorities came across compromised data collection in NRC in districts bordering Bangladesh. However, Hajela objected to the idea.
The Chief Justice orally voiced his scepticism on the contention for re-verification of the data. The Centre and Assam sought extension in the publication of the Final NRC in order to cross-check "invalid inclusions and exclusions" in and from the draft NRC published on July 30, 2018.
The authorities argued for 20 per cent sample re-verification of names included in the draft list in districts bordering Bangladesh and 10 per cent for the remaining districts. The Chief Justice argued that the reports filed by the NRC Coordinator said re-verification was an integral part of the process, and it seemed, it had already been done during the disposal of claims in the NRC process.
"His (Hajela) report says while disposing of claims, 80 lakh names have been re-verified, which is tentatively 27 per cent names have been verified. You ask for 20 per cent and seek extension for the same... where is the requirement for this re-verification. If we are satisfied then what is the need for sample re-verification?" Gogoi said.
Delving further into this issue, the Chief Justice observed that there was absence of a channel to relay information between the government and the coordinator and therefore, the parties appeared to be on a different footing.
Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta said re-verification of names was a must to avoid turning India into the refugee capital of the world. "Apparently, there are more wrong inclusions in the list due to corrupt practices by lower level officers. Therefore, we need re-verification," he said.
Mehta argued vehemently to highlight the gravity of the matter and also indicated that Hajela was not aware of the ground reality. But the apex court remained unmoved. The Chief Justice recommended the government and the NRC Coordinator to exchange reports on the matter and work in tandem.
The court also said that before handing over the reports to Mehta, Hajela must redact from it paragraphs that do not strictly deal with re-verification.
Meanwhile, Hajela claimed his office can publish on July 31 supplementary lists containing the latest inclusion and exclusion incorporated after the claims and objections stage, followed by a consolidated list within a month.
The apex court also directed publication of hard copies of the supplementary list indicating inclusions, at NRC seva centers, circle offices and offices of District Magistrates in the state.
"We also direct that the list of exclusions to be released on August 31, shall be family-wise and will only appear online," the bench said.
"After steps are taken for securing the NRC data, the list of inclusions and exclusions shall be made available to the Assam government, Centre and the Registrar General of India," the court observed.