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SC questions second chance for those left out of NRC Assam

Defers receipt of claims and objections against draft NRC from August 30 to a later date

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Union government whether it is giving the over 40 lakh people, excluded from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, a “second chance” to gain citizenship by allowing them to produce fresh documents to prove their Indian legacy.

The court was referring to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) proposed by the government, which allows a claimant for Indian citizenship to “change his legacy” by submitting additional documents at the ‘claims and objections’ stage. The court asked whether this would amount to “re-doing the claims” of those left out from the draft NRC published on July 30.

A Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Nariman on Tuesday said allowing a claimant to change his legacy would amount to “tinkering with the family tree” and re-doing the verification process.

“You see, a claimant submits documents to prove his legacy from his father. A family tree is drawn, which includes the claimant’s siblings, etc. The authorities verify his claim with each one of the member in the family tree before deciding his claim [for citizenship]. Now, your SOP says that a person can submit fresh documents claiming to prove his legacy from his grandfather. Now, the family tree has to be recreated. Everything has to be reverified. This amounts to redoing the entire exercise. Why?”, Justice Gogoi asked Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

‘Why change tack?’

Besides, the Bench pointed out, the government, in the beginning, had specified that documents on legacy would be allowed to be filed only once. Now, it has changed tack to permit additional documents to be filed. “Are you not contradicting yourself here?” Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Venugopal.

The court directed Assam State NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela to file a report on the ramifications of the government’s proposal to submit fresh documents. Mr. Hajela has to file his report before September 5, the next date of hearing.

Meanwhile, the court deferred the receipt of claims and objections to a later date. This stage was supposed to start within the next days, on August 30, and would have continued till October 28.

“Allowing a person to suddenly pull out an additional document, that too at the ‘claims and objections’ stage, will upset the apple cart,” Justice Nariman observed.

Mr. Venugopal countered that the government is giving “another chance to people who risk losing all their rights”.

To this, Justice Nariman agreed that the court was dealing with “human problems of a huge magnitude”.

“Consequences are so severe that should they be given one more chance. Suppose a claimant has misfired once but can deliver in the next. Why should such a person not be given another chance?” Justice Nariman asked Mr. Hajela, stakeholders and petitioners in the litigation.

To this, Mr. Hajela said reopening of family trees would risk the possibility of “trading of legacies or meeting of minds”. “Giving a second chance would only open trading in legacies. There may be people who are willing to sell the legacies to others,” he said.

Sample re-verification

The Supreme Court further asked Mr. Hajela to submit a report with a time-frame to carry out the sample re-verification of at least 10 per cent of the names included in the final draft NRC. This is after Mr. Hajela placed before the Bench a district-wise data of the percentage of the population who have been excluded from the final draft NRC.