The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the deadline to publish the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) by a month. This means that instead of the earlier deadline of July 31, the final list of bona fide citizens can be out by August 31.
What is the NRC; what is going on?
The NRC is a Supreme Court-monitored exercise that has been four years in the making and has had multiple deadline extensions. Ahead of the August 31, 2019 date, two drafts (a partial and a complete) were published on January 1, 2018 and July 30, 2018 respectively. The final draft from last year excluded names of 40.7 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants who had applied. This was followed by an “additional draft exclusion list” published on June 26, 2019, where an additional one lakh names were dropped from those who had been included in the final July 30 draft list. These people had the option of contesting the exclusion by filing claims, and appearing in hearings.
In Assam, the NRC was first prepared in 1951 — the current exercise is a bid to update the 1951 register, and in the process, determine who is a legal Indian citizen based on a cut-off date: March 24, 1971. Those people who entered the country before this date, and have admissible documents to prove so, are eligible to be included in the NRC, and thus enjoy rights as citizens of India. All those who are out will have to provide reason for their exclusion by appearing before a quasi-judicial body called the Foreigners’ Tribunal.
Who requested an extension?
Last Friday, the NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela had requested an extension of the deadline in light of the recent floods that ravaged Assam. He had also sought time for his officials to write out the final orders. The Assam government and the Centre, too, had requested an extension based on a plea to carry out a sample re-verification of 20 per cent names in the districts bordering Bangladesh, and a 10 per cent re-verification in the remaining districts.
The government’s reasoning was that there had been many wrongful inclusions and exclusions in the updation of the NRC, and a re-verificaiton was needed to dispel doubts. However, in a report submitted by Hajela to the Court, he said that 27% (which accounts for 80 lakh names) re-verification had already happened during the hearings for fresh claims and objections. Based on this, the CJI-led Bench declined the government’s re-verification plea on Tuesday, while allowing a month-long deadline extension.
What does the extension mean?
Although a specific reason for the extended deadline wasn’t spelled out in Tuesday’s hearing, the Supreme Court’s decision gives Hajela and his team a month’s window to carry out qaulity checks and tie-up lose ends before the final NRC is published on August 31.
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