By our Staff Reporter
GUWAHATI, Dec 8: Bureaucratic phraseology coming under legal scanning, the process of NRC update is likely to enter another phase with offshoots sprouting from two ‘office communications’ relating to ‘ration cards’ and ‘statements as evidences’.
Up-to-the-minute developments to this effect are debates in the making over the legal validity of the old ration cards for the purpose of NRC update and the degree of weigh to be given to ‘statements of government officials’ and ‘statements of private persons’.
In a memorandum submitted to State NRC Coorditor Prateek Hejela on Friday, the State Congress Legislature Party (CLP) raised the question over the validity of old ration cards meant for AAY, APL, BPL and MMASY issued before August 1, 2014. This question arises as the State NRC Coorditor, in an ‘office communication’ issued on December 5, 2017 issued a circular to all DRCR stating that ‘the Food Supply and Consumer Affairs Department has cancelled all AAY, APL, BPL and MMASY ration cards issued before August 1, 2014. The reason for the same was the introduction of the tiol Security Act…’ In its memorandum, the CLP said that such ration cards had been cancelled in the run-up to the introduction of the tiol Food Security Act as an umbrella project to cover all people targeted in the aforesaid schemes. “… the entire gamut of ration cards issued prior to this Act were cancelled. However, it is pertinent to mention here that the said card is issued only related to the scale of rationed items under the new Act. But NRC requires valid government documents prior to 1971 in list ‘B’. As an official government document, earlier ration cards will definitely have its validity as relevant entry in any public or other official book, register stating a fact in issue or relevant fact as envisaged under Section 35 of the Evidence Act, 1872. Therefore, the above mentioned ‘office communication’ will impress all deputy commissioners that old ration cards have been cancelled and cannot be used as documents of evidence in NRC. But legal validity as government documents of old ration cards is still a relevant document for the purpose of NRC update process as it is not necessary that in place of all cancelled ration cards corresponding new ration cards were issued to the beneficiaries. Moreover, the scheme under tiol Food Security Act has not penetrated to all areas universally and many genuine people who possessed the old ration cards have not got new ration cards after the repudiation of their old cards. Therefore, the said office memorandum needed to be modified and old ration cards should be regarded as a valid piece of documents.”
Reacting to another ‘office communication’ issued on December 5, 2017 by the NRC State Coorditor stating ‘while recording the statements of persons in Part E of DM/T report the statements of government officials need to be given primacy and their statements need to recorded compulsorily and the statements of private persons can be considered if they corroborate the statements given by the government functiories’. The CLP, however, said: “We would like to mention that as per Sections 59 and 60 of the Evidence Act, 1972 there is no provision which differentiates between the statements of government officials and private persons. Such a distinction is in contravention of Article 14 of the Constitution Values of statements of all persons are same as per Section 59 and 60 of the Evidence Act 1872… Therefore, such guidelines which distinguish the government or private person would go against all those provisions. Any respectable inhabitants of the locality, preferably Gaon Burha (which is a civil post and are appointed under the Assam Land Regulation Act 1886) along with panchayat secretary etc should be suited to make such enquiries.”
The CLP requested Hajela to take prompt and necessary steps to dispel/allay any kind of confusion/doubt/apprehension among officials and NRC applicants on ration cards and panchayat certificates and determition of origil inhabitants (as resolved by the Supreme Court of India).