New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Supreme Court today gave the Centre and the Assam government three years to complete the entire process to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which will help weed out illegal migrants from the state.
A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R.K. Agrawal passed the order on the basis of an earlier assurance of both the Centre and Assam that Rs 288 crore has been sanctioned for the update and the process was expected to be completed in three years.
Justice Gogoi said while the two governments must complete the exercise within three years, efforts could still be made to finish the task earlier.
It asked the nodal officer of the Assam government to be personally present in court on September 23 to explain the modalities sought to be adopted for completing the exercise in a phased manner.
The notification for the exercise was issued by the Centre in December 2013.
“The whole process would be completed in three years. The central government had sanctioned Rs 288 crore and the amount has been mutually agreed upon between the state and Union governments,” the UPA government had told the apex court.
The court had earlier pulled up the Centre for its lethargic approach to work relating to updating of the NRC.
According to the Centre, the modalities are being worked out on the basis of the recommendations made by the state government. It said Assam had submitted revised modalities giving clarifications on updating the NRC 1951 to the Centre in January 2013.
As per the modalities, applications will be invited from all the residents in Assam along with relevant documents in a time-bound manner. After scrutiny of applications, the names of persons who are originally inhabitants of Assam and their descendants, who are citizens of India, shall be included in the consolidated list if the citizenship of such persons is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt.
Reacting to the Supreme Court order, Prateek Hajela, state coordinator, NRC, told The Telegraph that they have already assured the court of finishing the task within three years. “We are on the job and will launch the process across the state from December 2014 to December 2016,” he said. According to the new modalities, application forms will be distributed house-to-house but the applications will have to be deposited at application receipt centres, 1,500 of which will be opened across the state. Call centres will also be opened to facilitate the process, Hajela said.
The court said: “That according to modalities, the names of such persons shall be eligible to be included in the consolidated list (i) who came in the state of Assam on or after 01.01.1966 and before March 25, 1971, and were declared foreigners by the foreigners tribunals and after such declaration got them registered with the registering authority and (ii) who have been declared bonafide Indian citizens by the foreigners tribunals.”
Earlier, the updating process had been launched as a pilot project in 2010 in the Chaygaon and Barpeta areas of lower Assam but was shelved after protests in Barpeta. The All Assam Students’ Union, the Centre and Dispur in May 2005 had agreed to March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for inclusion of names in the NRC.
“The NRC, in simple terms, will be a list of Assam citizens prepared on the basis of the 1951 NRC and prepoll 1971 voters list,” said Hajela.
However, persons who have been declared “illegal migrants/foreigners by the foreigners tribunals who came to Assam on or after (midnight of) March 25, 1971 shall not be eligible to be included in the consolidated list,” the Centre had said in an earlier affidavit. The apex court was dealing with two public interest litigations which were mainly seeking quashing of Section 6A of Citizenship Act, to prevent entry of illegal immigrants.
The petition filed by Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and another NGO complained that the impugned provision was discriminatory and unconstitutional in that it permitted entry of foreigners into Assam till March 25, 1971, whereas for the rest of the country the cut-off date as prescribed under Articles 5 and 6 of the Constitution is July 19, 1949. It contended that the impugned proviso promotes and protects these illegal migrants and that Section 6A has been specifically enacted for protecting the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who have trespassed into Assam.
Along with praying that Section 6A be struck down as ultra vires, the organisation wanted the NRC in Assam updated by taking 1951 as the base year and that necessary directions be issued to the Centre and state governments to evolve an effective procedure for deportation of the illegal immigrants.