NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today made it clear that the ongoing process of publication of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has to be completed by May 31 this year and work on this should continue without "any interference from any quarter".
"You push it up", remarked a bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman while taking exception to the submission advanced by the Centre and the state coordinator for NRC that the process would be completed by July 31, instead of May 31. The NRC is being prepared to identify illegal migrants in Assam.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, told the bench that the state coordinator has handed over a status report in a sealed cover as per which verification of around one crore citizens was to be done and according to the persons working on ground, it would be done by July 31.
When the bench asked state coordinator Prateek Hajela about it, he said that the verification process involved house-to-house visits which was expected to be over by May 31 and thereafter, a month's time till June 30 would be needed for "mop-up operation".
"You push it up. We are not going to push it down," the bench told Hajela, adding "Do it by May 31, not a day later."
The Attorney General said that as per the coordinator, they were examining family trees of the citizens and it was "physically impossible".
"Mr Attorney General what everybody thought was a big joke, has been turned into a reality. Our business is to make the impossible, possible and we will do it. We are monitoring it for the last four years and we know this," the bench said, adding that it would monitor the progress of the NRC work in Assam after 30 days.
"Thank you for pointing out the ground reality and thank you for saying that we are ignorant about it. There are many things which we know but we say we do not know," the bench observed and posted the matter for hearing on March 27.
When Venugopal urged the court to consider the request and said that the state was doing its best in the matter, the bench said, "only the court is doing its best. Nobody else."
The bench, while noting in its order that as per the coordinator the work of final draft NRC would be completed by June 30, also dealt with the issue about the upcoming panchayat and local body elections in Assam, which are due in March-April this year.
The top court said the state election commission would conduct these elections as per schedule but the poll process should not cause "slightest of interference in the publication of NRC".
Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing Assam, told the bench that official machinery of the state would have to be diverted for election, the bench shot back, "the moment diversion is made, we are going to hold the state government and state election commission responsible for it".
Mehta said security arrangements would be done and forces would be deployed for election but administrative functionaries like district magistrates and collectors have to work during this poll process.
"No. The NRC work will go on without any interference. How will you do your panchayat elections, it is up to you," the bench said, adding, "the work of holding election in Assam will not be at the cost of upgradation and preparation of NRC and the NRC work will continue as before with fill deployment".
It said that the state election commission and state government would take necessary action for holding of these elections.
At the outset, the Attorney General read out the details from the status report filed by the coordinator and said the apex court had asked him to come out with first draft NRC by December 31 last year covering a total of 2.38 crore citizens.
He said the coordinator has been able to complete the work for 1.90 crore citizens by December 31 last year and another over 38 lakh by January 31 this year, taking the total to around 2.29 crore.
The court did not accept the request to appoint an additional state coordinator for NRC work and said the incumbent coordinator would continue to carry out the exercise till it reaches its logical conclusion.
The first draft NRC for Assam was published in December end as per the apex court's direction to come out with the first draft NRC by December 31, 2017.
The Supreme Court had said that claims of those citizens, whose names do not figure in the draft NRC for Assam published by December 31 last year, would be scrutinised and included in the subsequent list, if found genuine.
The top court had on November 30 last year said that on the expiry of midnight of December 31, the draft NRC pertaining to 2.38 crore claims, would be published.
The court had observed this while rejecting the Centre's plea seeking extension of time for publication of the draft NRC.
The NRC of 1951 is being updated for Assam in accordance with the tripartite agreement among the state and central governments and the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was arrived at in 2005 to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.