Reprimanding Assam coordinator for National Register of Citizens Prateek Hajela and Registrar General and Census Commissioner Sailesh for giving statements to the press on the NRC process, the Supreme Court Tuesday warned them that they could face contempt action and time in jail.
A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman said it was sparing them further action, keeping in mind that they still have a lot of work to do to bring out the final NRC. The bench said the statements by the two officials were “highly improper” and told them to be “cautious in future”.
The court, which heard the matter last on July 31, had fixed August 16 as the next hearing date. Tuesday’s hearing was especially convened by the court which took “suo motu” note of news reports. The bench said it was “disturbed” by the reports.
“You are officers of the court. What is all this?… What you say also reflects on the court,” the bench told the two officials who had appeared in court.
Referring to the news reports, Justice Gogoi asked Hajela: “Can you tell us what is this?… You are a court-appointed officer.” Justice Nariman joined him: “Are you in any manner concerned with the claims and objections?… What have you said and how are you concerned? All things you have said. Who are you to say? Your job is to complete the draft,” he said.
Hajela tendered an apology, but Justice Nariman continued: “What apology? We find this very strange… Speaking for myself, I am appalled.”
Justice Gogoi referred to the reports and statements made by Hajela on the documents to be submitted for claims and objections. “On the one hand, we are asking the government to submit the Standard Operating Procedure… On the other, you are saying any document may be included,” he said.
Turning to the Registrar General, he said: “Who are you to say all this? We should be holding both of you guilty of contempt. I am sending both of you to jail.”
Justice Gogoi said the court had clarified on July 31 that the draft NRC cannot be the basis for any action as it was only a draft. Referring to a report carried by The Indian Express, he then asked “where is the scope, where is the necessity… to say all this?”.
Justice Nariman asked Hajela: “What impelled you to go to the press like that?”
Hajela replied that he had discussed with the Registrar General and was told that if there are any apprehensions among people, they should be allayed. He told the bench that he will not speak to the press on the subject again.
Justice Nariman said “please don’t do that”. He said the court could have taken sterner action against them but for the fact that they have a lot of work to do.
The bench said: “Your job is to prepare an NRC. That’s the job given to you by the court. Your job is not to hold a brief for anybody.” Before making any statements on the subject in the future, the officials must get back to the court and follow its directions, the bench said.