THE SUPREME Court Friday ordered the transfer of 1995-batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre Prateek Hajela, in-charge of the contentious updating of the 1951 National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, to Madhya Pradesh, the state he hails from. He was appointed the coordinator of the NRC process in January 2014.
The order was delivered by a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde and R F Nariman. The court asked the competent authority to issue the notification for this “forthwith and in any case within seven days from today”.
“Upon hearing Mr. Prateek Hajela, learned State Coordinator, the learned Attorney General and the learned Solicitor General and taking into account the totality of the facts of the case, we order for the inter-cadre transfer of Mr. Hajela to the State of Madhya Pradesh on deputation for the maximum period permissible under the relevant rules/ regulations,” the bench said in its order.
Significantly, the order is also CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s last one on the NRC updation process since the bench directed that other NRC related matters would be heard on November 26. The CJI who became part of the bench hearing the NRC matter in August 2014 is scheduled to retire on November 17, 2019.
The Supreme Court took over the monitoring of the updation process in December 2014, and the final updated NRC was published on August 31 this year. The final NRC included 3,11,21,004 names and left out 19,06,657 persons.
When Attorney General KK Venugopal asked the bench if there was any reason for the transfer order, CJI Gogoi replied “Is there any order without a reason?” He did not elaborate.
When contacted, Hajela declined to comment. Assam’s Commissioner and Secretary (Home and Political) Department Ashutosh Agnihotri also declined to comment.
State government sources, however, said Hajela’s transfer follows his deteriorating relationship with the Assam government, and mounting criticism of his by the state unit of various political parties including the BJP and the Congress in the last few months. They said the NRC updation process was anyway complete.
In July this year, the Assam government and the Centre petitioned the SC for re-verification of a sample of names included in the draft NRC – 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere – but this was dismissed by the apex court after Hajela said that re-verification of 27% names was already done.
Since then, the state government and the state unit of the BJP have sharply criticised Hajela. In a statement on July 24, the state BJP said, Hajela was working under the direction of “certain forces” to “publish a faulty NRC with names of illegal foreigners in it”.
On August 1, the state government released the exclusion data of the draft NRC to question the accuracy of the process and criticised Hajela. In its reply on the floor of the Assembly, the state government had said that Hajela’s reasoning was wrong.