Panchayat election no excuse to extend deadline for updating NRC: SC

The top court, however, spared the Additional Deputy Commissioner rank officer currently engaged in the work of updating the NRC work for the local bodies elections scheduled next month

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court today refused to extend the 31 May deadline for the ongoing process of publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam in the wake of panchayat elections in the State, saying the polls should not become an impediment. [Related article: National Register of Catharsis by Surajit Dasgupta]

The apex court, however, spared the Additional Deputy Commissioner rank officer currently engaged in the work of updating NRC for the local bodies elections scheduled next month.

“We have already said that the deadline for updation (sic) of NRC is 31 May and the next 30 days for cross-checking of data till 30 June. It can’t go beyond that and (the) complete final draft should be ready by then. You deploy your surplus employees or request neighbouring states, but no employee engaged in NRC work can be spared or disturbed,” a bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and RF Nariman said.

The bench’s remark came after the State government said the panchayat elections were due next month and urged that the employees engaged in NRC work be allowed to be deployed for the polls. The NRC is being prepared to identify illegal migrants in Assam.

The bench said it had no intention to interfere with the panchayat polls in the State and it should be held as per schedule. But the polls shall not become an impediment in the work of NRC, it added.

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Assam, told the court that as per the Panchayat Constitution Rules of the State, deputy commissioner is responsible for the elections but he was currently engaged in NRC work.

“When we asked the deputy commissioner to work for polls, the State coordinator of NRC Prateek Hajela said it will be contempt of court as no officer can be engaged in any other work,” he said.

To this, the bench said if there was a statutory requirement, the additional deputy commissioners of each district could be spared for the local bodies’ election, but no other official could be allowed to do any other job, except updating the NRC.

The bench asked all State governments, Railways, banks, CBSE, UIDAI and the Ministry of External Affairs to assist the NRC officials in verification of the records in the stipulated period.

Mehta said if the panchayat elections are delayed in Assam, the State will lose a grant of Rs 1000 crore, which can be given only if the elected local bodies are in place as per the recommendation of 14th Finance Commission.

During the hearing, the bench also pulled up the Registrar General of India (RGI) for “putting spanners” in the work of updating of the NRC.

“Mr Attorney General, we have received a confidential report from our sources and have found that this gentleman (Registrar General of India) is putting spanners in the work,” the bench said.

Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was present in the courtroom, asked whether the court meant that the RGI was delaying the work.

“Yes. We have received a confidential report regarding this. If that will be the case, we will not hesitate to direct for replacing the Registrar General of India,” the bench said.

RGI Shailesh was also present in the courtroom when the bench made the observation and warned him of the action.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on May 8.

On 20 February, the apex court had made it clear that the ongoing process of publication of the final NRC in Assam has to be completed by 31 May this year and work on it should continue without “any interference from any quarter”.

The bench, while noting in its order that the work of final draft NRC would be completed by 30 June, had also dealt with the issue of the upcoming panchayat and local body elections in Assam, which were due in for April this year.

The top court had said that the State election commission would conduct these elections as per schedule but the poll process should not cause “slightest of interference in the publication of NRC”. It had said that the work of holding election will not be at the cost of the upgrade and preparation of NRC.

The first draft NRC for Assam was published in December end as per the apex court’s direction to come out with the first draft NRC by 31 December 2017.

The apex court had said that claims of those citizens, whose names do not figure in the draft NRC for Assam published by 31 December last year, would be scrutinised and included in the subsequent list if found genuine.

The NRC of 1951 is being updated for Assam in accordance with the tripartite agreement among the State and Union governments and the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was arrived at in 2005 to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.