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Assam count in 3 years

- Updated citizens’ register to weed out illegal migrants

New Delhi, Feb. 3: The Centre today told the Supreme Court the work on updating the National Register of Citizens to weed out illegal migrants in Assam would be completed in three years.

Additional solicitor general Rakesh Khanna said Rs 288 crore had been sanctioned for the exercise and the amount had been “mutually agreed” upon between the Union government and the state.

Justices H.L. Gokhale and Ranjan Gogoi recorded the law officer’s submission. “Whichever new government comes to power after the general elections, we hope the process would continue,” the bench said.

The court, which has been dealing with two public interest petitions (PILs) that had mainly challenged Section 6A of the Citizenship Act to prevent the entry of illegal immigrants, had earlier pulled up the Union government for delaying work on the register.

Today, Khanna said the Centre had in December issued a notification for setting in motion the project. “The whole process would be completed in three years. The central government had sanctioned Rs 288 crore and the amount has been mutually agreed between the state and the Union government,” he told the bench, adding the Assam government had already been given an initial amount of Rs 25 crore to start the exercise.

Senior counsel Jaideep Gupta, who appeared for Assam, however, claimed that he had no instruction from the state that the amount sanctioned — Rs 288 crore — had been mutually agreed upon.

But the court recorded Khanna’s submission. “When he (Khanna) is saying that, what is there to say? After all, he is saying it on an affidavit and we are recording it,” the bench said, before fixing the next hearing for August 4.

At an earlier hearing, the Centre had told the court the modalities of carrying out the 1951 registry update were being worked out on the basis of recommendations the Assam government had submitted in January 2013.

The Centre had then said applications would be invited from all Assam residents. After scrutiny, names of original inhabitants and their children and descendants would be included in a consolidated list if their citizenship was established beyond reasonable doubt.

Those who arrived in Assam on or after January 1, 1966, and before March 25, 1971, and were declared as foreigners by the Foreigners Tribunal but were later declared “bona fide Indian citizens” by the same tribunal would also be “eligible to be included” in the consolidated list.

But those who arrived on or after March 25, 1971, “shall not be eligible to be included in the consolidated list”, the Centre had said in the October 25 affidavit.

The PILs, filed by the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and another NGO, had challenged Section 6A of the Citizenship Act. They said the provision was discriminatory and unconstitutional as it permitted entry of foreigners into Assam till March 25, 1971, when the cut-off date for the rest of the country under Articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution was July 19,1949. The petitioners contended that Section 6A had been enacted to protect illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.