Make impossible possible, complete NRC by May 31: SC tells Assam govt

The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Assam government to complete the work on updation of the National Register of Citizens by May 31 as it rejected the plea for time till June 30, saying its job is to make impossible possible.

Kaziranga University

Refusing to extend time, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, along with Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, asked the Assam government to pull up its socks.

“…The work of further verification as stated in the report of the… Coordinator should continue without any interference from any quarter(s) and with utmost speed and expedition,” the court said.

Mentioning that it would monitor the progress on the verification of the application on the ground, the court directed the next hearing of the matter on March 27.

“What everybody thought a big joke is a reality. Our job is to make impossibility a possibility,” said Justice Gogoi, brushing aside submission by Attorney General KK Venugopal that it was a “physical impossibility”.

The court by its November 30, 2017 order had directed the publication of the draft National Register for Citizens (NRC) for Assam carrying 2.38 crore names by the midnight of December 31, 2017 – a task that appeared impossible at that point of time.

As Venugopal said the court does not know many things about ground realities, Justice Gogoi said: “There are many things that we know but we don’t make comments about them.”

Justice Nariman added: “This court is doing the best,” inviting a quick response from Venugopal who said: “I can’t say.”

The bench also shrugged off the plea for relaxation of time in the wake of the panchayat and local body elections scheduled for March-April as it would involve the diversion of manpower for holding elections.

The elections will be held as per the plans and schedule drawn up by the State Election Commission and the work on the NRC will continue as before, the court said.

“…we make it clear that the work of holding elections in Assam will not be at the cost of upgradation/preparation of the final draft NRC and the said work… will continue as before with full deployment of manpower as on date,” the court said in its order.

It added that it was up to the State Election Commission and the state government to make necessary arrangements for holding elections.

“You import men and material, import manpower. You will not interfere with the finalisation of the NRC,” Justice Gogoi said, adding that the State Election Commission and the state officials will be held responsible for any diversion of officials.”

State co-ordinator Prateek Hajela told the court that after the publication of the draft NRC on December 31, another 38.43 lakh applications have been scrutinized bringing the total number of scrutinized applications to about 2.29 crore.

Seeking more time, Hajela said they have yet to verify another one crore people and thereafter there would be a mop-up round.

Asking Hajela to squeeze the work under the deadline, the court said that both work should be completed by May 31.

Referring to the proposal to appoint an Additional State Coordinator besides Hajela, the court directed the Registrar General of India to desist from any such move.

“…We make it clear that Hajela presently engaged in the work of preparation and upgradation of final draft NRC will continue to carry out the exercise till it reaches its logical end,” the court said.

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