Supreme Court warns NRC to give fair hearings before July 31 [3105-2019]

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday rebuked the official responsible for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRCNSE 2.22 %) in Assam, saying there were “disturbing” media reports over the way the exercise was being conducted and the approaching deadline does not mean that the process is “cut short”.

A two-judge vacation bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, directed Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela to ensure there are fair hearings for all regarding their claims and objections to being included in the NRC, which the top court wants completed by July 31.

The directions came on a day several newspapers and TV channels reported the case of a retired Indian Army captain, Md Sanaullah, who fought for the country in the Kargil War but has now been declared a foreigner in Assam by a foreigners’ tribunal. Sanaullah, who was working with the Assam Police, has since been arrested and taken to a detention centre. “There are disturbing reports in the media,” CJI Gogoi said. “It is not as if the media is always wrong. It is sometimes right. Do it in a proper manner. Just because the deadline is near does not mean that you will cut the process short.”

Those left out of the draft NRC are being treated as prima facie foreigners for all practical purposes and run the risk of losing their voting rights and being deported. Earlier, several suicides have been reported from among those left out of the draft NRC over their failure to establish their citizenship claims through a complicated process involving the family tree and an accompanying paper trail. “As per media reports, it is not being done properly. You must be fair. Disposal of claims and objections must be properly done. Don’t cut short the requirement of a fair hearing,” the CJI said.

The top court has set a July 31 deadline for the completion of the final NRC and has firmly refused to extend it any further.

At least four million people were left out of the draft NRC, which was published last year. The NRC has to also vet these people a second time along with their fresh claims and objections to their inclusions from third parties by that date. The findings of foreigners’ tribunals regarding citizenship claims though will be final. The top court has asked the state government to set up more such tribunals to deal with the rush of applicants before the deadline.

The state through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, assisted by state counsel Suvodeep Roy, has said it was setting up at least 1,000 such tribunals. Most would be headed by lawyers, retired judicial officers and senior bureaucrats with experience in handling judicial and quasi-judicial bodies.

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03 Jun 2019