Stating that the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) could not be the basis for any action since it was only a draft, the Supreme Court Tuesday allowed the Centre to draw up a “fair” procedure for dealing with claims and objections of people left out of the list.
“Court would like to observe that what has been submitted is a complete draft NRC which, naturally being a draft, cannot be the basis for any action by any authority,” a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman said.
The bench also declined to go into a plea by an association of transgenders on the non-inclusion of names in the NRC sayings they already had their chance to apply.
“You missed the bus… because all men, women and any other could apply,” Justice Gogoi said, adding “you want us to open something we want to close… Lots of people will come and tell us give us a second chance… We will open the floodgates.”
Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela informed the court that the complete NRC draft will be available to the public for inspection until August 7. They can approach NRC Seva Kendras and Local Registrars to know the status, he said. From August 30 to September 28, those left out can file their claims and objections, he said.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the Ministry concerned was in the process of preparing modalities in the form of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The SOP, he said, will be placed before the court by the middle of August.
The bench said once the procedure is prepared, it will approve it if the process adopted is fair, else it will correct it.
Venugopal also submitted that “given the magnitude of the situation, no coercive action can be taken unless they are given proper opportunity to present their claims”. He said the Centre is “extremely concerned and anxious about what will happen in the next few days”.
Venugopal said it would help if there is some assurance from the court. But Justice Gogoi told him: “What assurance? Court gives only orders.”
The bench told the Attorney General “whatever you think is fair procedure, spell it out and give us”. It pointed out that as per rules, the local registrar has to give a notice to everyone who is left out and give a reasonable hearing opportunity.
The Attorney General said the government proposed to collect the biometrics of those filing their claims as it apprehends large-scale movement of these people post finalisation of the draft by changing their names etc. The bench replied “at this moment we will not express any opinion”, adding “our silence is neither consent, nor agreement, nor assurance”.
The court asked Hajela who are the officers designated as Local Registrars. It said the purpose of asking this is to ensure that the procedure is fair as they have to issue notice to those whose names are missing. “It has to be a fair procedure. Each person who has filed a claim has to be given a fair opportunity. Who will do that?” the bench asked. Hajela replied that they were mostly gazetted officers. The court will hear the matter next on August 16.