The Supreme Court on Thursday took exception to Assam Chief Minister Sarbanand Sonowal’s interference with the preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) draft in the state. Sonowal had said the NRC draft would be prepared by December 31, 2017. This is three months in advance to March 31, 2018 deadline given to the top court by the State Coordinator for NRC, Prateek Hajela. In an earlier hearing, Hajela had told the top court that they would be able to complete and publish the draft NRC by March 31, 2018. However, on Thursday he told the court that it would be done by December 31, 2017.
The obvious question was whether the advancing of the date was linked to the statement of Chief Minister Sonowal that the NRC draft would be ready by December 31, 2017. A bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said the apex court did not appreciate any other authority intervening in the national register preparation process when the court was monitoring it. “We have a statement of Assam Chief Minister that he has revised the date (for the preparation of draft NRC in Assam) to December 31. When the Supreme Court is monitoring, how can another agency intervene,” Justice Gogoi asked.
“We have spent time, money and energy for over two years. It is not fair to this court,” Justice Gogoi said pointing out that last time the court was told the draft NCR would be ready by March 31, 2018, and now the CM was revising it to December 31, 2017. “Last time you told us that you will do it by March 31. (Now) We have a statement of Assam Chief Minister that he has revised the date to December 31, 2017,” Justice Gogoi said wondering as to how can another authority interfere when the apex court was monitoring it.
Justice Gogoi asked that when the court had given time till Match 31, 2018, who was the Chief Minister to revise the date. Having expressed its displeasure, the court in its order said: “We don’t appreciate any other authority intervening in the preparation of NCR. Be that as it may be, we now understand that draft NRC would be ready by December 31, 2017. Accordingly all budgetary allocations are approved…”
The court said that in the event of any difficulty, the State Coordinator for National Registration would apprise the court of the same. The exercise for the upgradation of the National Register of Citizens in Assam is underway and it also involves verification of the people who claim to be residents of Assam but were living in different parts of the country prior to 1971 — the cut-off date for the identification of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
On the conclusion of hearing, senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the bench that the Assam State Congress Committee wanted the five-judge constitution bench, which was examining the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, to intervene in the hearing. Section 6A of the Citizenship Act provides for the grant of citizenship to migrants from Bangladesh, who had crossed over to India before the cut-off date of March 25, 1971.
A similar request was made by senior counsel Raju Ramachandran appearing for a Muslim outfit. The bench asked them to make the prayer before the constitution bench itself. A five-judge constitution bench comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur, Justice R.K. Agrawal, Justice Prafulla C. Pant, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan is examining the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act.