It is heartening to see that the Supreme Court is firm about the completion of the updating of the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) without any further delay. This is evident from the apex court’s rejection of the Centre’s plea for further extension of the deadline for the publication of the updated draft NRC for Assam beyond December 31, 2017. A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and Rohinton Fali riman told Attorney General KK Venugopal that it could not extend the deadline for the publication of the draft NRC list. The Centre had proposed, through the Registrar General of Citizen Registration (RGCR), that the draft of the updated NRC be published on July 31, 2018. Thereupon, the Attorney General contesting the decision of the Bench did something that one does not normally expect in such situations. He said: “The Court is exceeding in executive power as the court has no authority to direct or fix date... My submission may be recorded.” The Bench recorded the statement of the Attorney General and dismissed the plea. The Attorney General also submitted that the publication of a truncated list would lead to a big law-and-order situation in Assam. The court rejected the contentions of the Attorney General.
The issue of publishing a truncated list of the draft NRC arose because State Coorditor, Prateek Hajela had informed the Bench of the Supreme Court that the draft NRC containing the mes of two crore people could be published by December 31, 2017, but that 37 lakh more people remained to be enumerated. He said that he could publish the list by January 15, 2018 after further vetting. The Supreme Court Bench, however, turned down this proposal and insisted that the coorditor could put in some extra effort and publish the list of 2.37 crore people by December 31, 2017. On the issue of border fencing and of sealing the India-Bangladesh border, the Supreme Court bench rapped the government for unsatisfactory work. The court expressed its displeasure at the kind of work being done to fence the border, and said it was rather unfortute that only 26 km of the Indo-Bangladesh border is being fenced every year for the last eight years. The court made it clear to Additiol Solicitor General Tushar Mehta that it only wanted to protect the country and did not want to interfere in the domain of the Executive. Mehta assured the court that the government would submit an action plan based on a specific time-frame.
The best possible development relating to the publication of the updated NRC is that the Supreme Court has evinced some firmness about not allowing the process to drift according to the whims of the government that seems somewhat casual about completing the task. What is particularly amusing about the recent developments relating to the updating of the NRC is the claim by the Congress that it was the Congress that had started the updating work of the NRC, and that the role of the Government of Assam and the BJP in the matter of publication of the draft NRC was suspicious. It has chosen to ignore Assam Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal’s statement welcoming the directive of the Supreme Court to publish the draft NRC by December 31, 2017. Perhaps the Congress is expecting everyone in Assam to forget about the how the Congress, during its 15-year rule of Assam, kept delaying the updating of the NRC. It seems to have forgotten how it orchestrated riots in Barpeta, when a pilot project of the updating work was started in 2010, resulting in the death of four persons. It seems to have also forgotten how the Supreme Court had to take matters in hand and order the updating of the NRC when this important task was delayed for years by the Congress hell-bent on sabotaging the vital task for the political benefit that it derived from the presence of illegal Bangladeshi voters in the State.