The Supreme Court on Tuesday came down heavily on the Union Home Ministry over its request to withdraw Central forces deployed in Assam for the National Register of Citizens exercise citing Lok Sabha elections. Expressing anguish over the MHA demand, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the Centre was hell-bent on not allowing the NRC process to go on.
“It seems the Home Ministry doesn’t want NRC work to go on and the entire effort from them is to destroy the process,” CJI Gogoi said.
The Supreme Court’s scathing remarks came after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Assam government, said the NRC exercise might have to be suspended from the last date for withdrawal of nominations till polling day.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the NRC exercise might have to be extended by two more weeks as forces from the state had to be withdrawn and redeployed. However, the CJI rejected the request and reiterated that the deadline for publishing the final NRC for Assam won’t be extended beyond July 31.
Responding to the attorney general, Gogoi said the government was not cooperating in the NRC process. “If you want, there are 1001 ways to get the NRC exercise completed. Do you want us to summon the Home Secretary,” the CJI said.
With more than 50,000 state government staffers employed to work for the NRC, conducting the process and the general elections in parallel will prove to be a logistical nightmare.
Taking a view of the matter, the apex court asked the Election Commission to consider exempting certain state officers from election duty to ensure that the NRC process continued without any hindrance.
Hours after the apex court’s direction, Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that the government is committed to complete the NRC process in Assam within the stipulated time and will ensure that no foreigner is included or any Indian citizen excluded.
He also said the home ministry wants that the National Register of Citizens, a list of Assam’s residents, is completed with fairness and for this the state government has been provided with all necessary assistance, including funds.
“Our government is committed to complete the update of NRC within the stipulated time so that no foreigner is included in it and no Indian is left out,” he told PTI.
In the last hearing, state NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela informed the court that the process of filing of claims and objections had concluded on December 31, 2018, and “about 36.2 lakh claims and about 2 lakh objections” had been filed. He also said that the process of hearing claims would commence on February 15 and that 15 days’ notice would be given to the claimants.