A certificate of residency issued by the gram panchayat is not a document of citizenship and is “meaningless” unless supported by some other valid record to make a claim for inclusion in the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), the Supreme Court said on Wednesday. A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman said no verification is made before such certificates are issued.
The apex court said it will pass orders on whether the Gauhati High Court was right in invalidating the document for making a claim in the NRC or whether further opportunity needs to be given to the people to establish their claims of citizenship. “A certificate issued by Gram Panchayat secretary is not a document for citizenship, rather it is meaningless unless it is supported by some other valid document for claim to NRC. This is only a supporting document and, for it to be valid, there needs to be proper verification,” the bench said.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas challenging the Gauhati high court order holding that a certificate of residency issued by Gram Panchayat (village council) secretary was not a legal and valid document for claim to citizenship. About 48 lakh claims have been made using certificates issued by Gram Panchayat secretaries, out of a total of 3.29 crore claims made so far for inclusion in the NRC which is being prepared in Assam to identify illegal migrants. The draft NRC is required to be published on or before December 31.
NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela had earlier informed the court that out of the 48 lakh claims made for NRC, 20 lakh were the indigenous people of the state and if the fact of being original inhabitants of the state is established, then no further verification is required.
Senior advocate B H Marlapalle, appearing for petitioner Rupajan Begum who has challenged the high court verdict, said it needs to be considered that many people are illiterates and Muslim marriages were not registered till it was made mandatory and births or deaths are not registered. Maintaining that this was a larger issue, the bench said it would decide whether Gram Panchayat certificate was a valid admissible document for NRC or the high court was right in deciding the issue in a writ petition which affects over four million people.
“This document is just a supporting document for inclusion in NRC and the authenticity of the document has to be scrutinised even if the high court order is set aside. People who have made claim on the basis of this document need to be given further opportunity to adduce evidence in support of their claim to NRC,” the bench said. Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre, said without verification, this document cannot be accepted as it only specifies the name of the father, place of residence and nothing else.
The Assam government supported the verdict of Gauhati high court saying this document cannot supplant legacy records and women who are married cannot have a better ride over the women who have legacy documents. It said the high court was justified in invalidating the document as it cannot be claim to citizenship. The apex court reserved its verdict and said it will pass orders on the batch of plea.
Earlier, the top court had said if it has to agree with the view of the high court, there can be no manner of doubt that all such claimants will have to be afforded a fresh opportunity to bring on record additional or alternative supporting documents. It had said if the high court order is interfered with, then it has to be taken into account that the verification of the contents of the certificates produced will have to be made by an elaborate enquiry.