The Supreme Court has issued notice to Hitesh Dev Sarma, Assam’s State Coordinator National Register of Citizens (NRC), in a contempt application filed by Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) which states that the directive issued by him for reverification of final draft of NRC contravenes the court’s previous orders. A similar contempt petition had also been moved by the All Assam Minorities Students Union (AAMSU). Both parties were represented by Kapil Sibal and Fuzail Ahmed Ayyubi.
The NRC which was published in August 2019, was finalised under close monitoring and scrutiny of the Supreme Court. The final NRC had excluded over 1.9 million people in Assam, most of them hailing from deeply impoverished and marginalised communities.
An October 13, 2020 directive for reverification issued by Hitesh Dev Sarma has caused delays in filing of appeals by excluded persons, leaving their identity in the country in much uncertainty. Two contempt petitions were filed by JUH and AAMSU against this direction issued by Sarma to Deputy Commissioners and District Registrars of Citizen Registration (DRCR) for deleting ineligible persons from the final draft of NRC. The ineligible persons include persons belonging to categories such as Declared Foreigner (DF), Doubtful Voter (DV) and Pending cases before Foreigners Tribunals (PFT), along with the descendants of persons belonging to these categories. The petitioner states that the unilateral directions amount to wilful disobedience of the Supreme Court’s orders passed on August 7, 2018, July 23, 2019 as well as judgment passed on August 13, 2019.
The petition states that since the apex court has repeatedly stressed the urgency of completing and finalising the preparation of the NRC, the directive for reverification and revisiting of completed stages in the process directly violates the apex court’s orders. The petitioner contends that on July 23, 2019, the court had specifically rejected the need for further reverification and directed the publication of final NRC.
“Devoid of any subjective satisfaction as to the need of conducting the reverification and unsettling an already finalized NRC, Assam prepared under the guardianship of this Hon’ble Court, the impugned contemptuous communication also fails to meet the test of legislative authority as well,” states the petition since the power to delete names from NRC lies with the Registrar General of Citizen Registration (respondent no. 2).
The petition also stresses that the process of updation of the NRC in Assam was monitored by the Supreme Court and all were orders passed by the then NRC co-ordinator (Prateek Hajela) only after updating the court about the same.
It may be recalled that after the final NRC was published, the Assam state government as well as several local organisations such as All Assam Students Union (AASU), were upset with the outcome, with both alleging that ‘foreigners’ had been mistakenly included in the final list. At that time Himanta Biswa Sarma, a powerful minister who holds portfolios like Health, Education and Finance in the Assam state government, had alleged that names of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants had been included in the NRC. He had demanded that a reverification of 20 percent of the names be carried out in border districts, and 10 percent names be verified in other districts.
This displeasure with the NRC led to a lot of drama, including levelling of a series of allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds and data manipulation against the former NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela who had to be shunted out of the state due to security concerns.
When Assam Public Works, the NGO that was spearheading the campaign moved the Supreme Court demanding reverification, the court summarily dismissed the request. A key reason for rejection was a submission by then NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela that 27 percent reverification had already been done! This rendered the need for a 10-20 percent reverification unnecessary.
The court had also made specific directions on inclusion of descendants of persons belonging to DF, DV or PFT category and stated that “for those persons born before 3 December 2004, if the parent through whom legacy is drawn is not DV or DF or PFT and is found eligible for inclusion in NRC, but the other parent from whom legacy is not drawn is a DV or DF or PFT, then, such descendants may be included in NRC”. Thus, the directive issued by Hitesh Dev Sarma, the current NRC co-ordinator, to delete descendants of these categories completely, is in contravention to this order of the Supreme Court and is also vague as it does not define who comes under “descendants” thus causing much uncertainty in application.
The petitioner states that the only two stages remaining are: issuance of rejection slips and appeals to Foreigners Tribunals and publication of the Final NRC by the Registrar General of Citizens Registration. However, several excluded persons have been unable to file such appeals due to non-issuance of certified copies of the rejection orders and the unnecessary delay means disqualification on the excluded persons while also being detrimental to a peaceful life with dignity, states the petition.
The petitioner further states that reverification will cause further delays in completion of trials and appeals, amounting to violation of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The order may be read here.