The Supreme Court Tuesday set aside a Gauhati High Court order which held that residence certificates issued by Gaon Panchayat secretary cannot be used to support claims for inclusion in the National Register for Citizens (NRC), but made it clear that such certificate alone was no proof of citizenship and can only be relied on to establish a linkage between the holder and the person from whom the legacy is claimed.
“The certificate issued by the G.P. (Gram Panchayat) Secretary merely acknowledges the shifting of residence of a married woman from one village to another. The said certificate by itself and by no means establishes any claim of citizenship of the holder of the certificate…The certificate in question only enables its holder to establish a link between the holder and the person from whom legacy is claimed…the certificate issued by the G.P. Secretary, by no means, is proof of citizenship. Such proof will come only if the link between the claimant and the legacy person (who has to be a citizen) is established,” a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman ordered.
The court pointed out that NRC’s Assam coordinator had made clear in several reports “that a claim accompanied by such a certificate, without details of the legacy person, is to be discarded and in the event information as to the legacy person has been furnished, the certificate in question is to be used for the limited purpose of providing a linkage after due enquiry and verification”.
Allowing appeals filed against the HC verdict to a “limited extent”, the apex court added that “the certificate has to be verified at two stages. The first is the authenticity of the certificate itself;and the second is the authenticity of the contents thereof.”
“The latter process of verification is bound to be an exhaustive process in the course of which the source of information of the facts and all other details recorded in the certificate will be ascertained after giving an opportunity to the holder of the certificate,” it ruled.
State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela had earlier told the court that about 48 lakh claims have been submitted relying on certificates issued by Gram Panchayat secretaries out of 3.29 crore claims made so far for inclusion in the register which is being drawn up to identify illegal migrants.
The court last week declined to give more time to the Centre to publish the draft NRC and said that “on the expiry of the midnight of December 31, 2017, draft NRC pertaining to the 2 crore claims which have been verified or likely to be verified by the said date and the additional 38 lakh claims will be published.”
In a related order, the SC declined to provide a clarification to the meaning of the term “originally inhabitants of the State of Assam”, saying the exercise of upgradation of NRC was not intended to identify and determine who the original inhabitants are.