New Delhi, Nov 30 (PTI) The Supreme Court today rejected the Centre's plea seeking extension of time for publication of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam, as the government termed fixing of the deadline as judicial overreach and an "encroachment" into the executive domain.
The top court said that on the expiry of the midnight of December 31, the draft NRC pertaining to 2.38 crore claims, will be published. The NRC is being prepared to identify illegal migrants in Assam.
The court said it has been monitoring the process of updating the NRC for three years now and it was the "sheer inaction on the part of the executive in dragging the matter".
A war of words was also witnessed between the bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman and Attorney General K K Venugopal after the court refused to extend the time as sought by the Centre.
Rejecting the prayer for extension of the deadline, the bench said "On the expiry of the midnight of December 31, 2017, draft NRC pertaining to the 2 crore claims which have been verified or likely to be verified by the said date and the additional 38 lakh claims, will be published".
It listed the matter for further hearing on February 20, 2018.
When Justice Nariman asked the AG if the prayer for extension of time was granted, could it mean further extension could be sought by the Centre, Venugopal said it was an executive function and if the need arose, further time could be sought and this possiblity cannot be ruled out.
He said that fixing a date for publication of the draft NRC was really an executive function and an order to this effect by the Court "would be an encroachment on the executive domain and violation of the doctrine of separation of powers".
To this, the bench said, "the contention advanced before the Court for the first time overlooks the fact that over a period of three years the Court has been monitoring the matter and fixing appropriate timelines for the completion of different phases of the exercise of updating the NRC".
It said that even on the last hearing on July 13, when December 31, 2017 was fixed for publication of the draft NRC, "the contentions now advanced of judicial overreach were not made before the court."
"That apart, it is the sheer inaction on the part of the executive in dragging the matter for a period of over three years and the absence of any justifiable cause to hold back even a partial publication that has led the Court to direct publication of the draft NRC on or before December 31, 2017," the bench said.
The Attorney General then said that part publication of the draft NRC could result in a law and order situation as a large segment of the people would understand that their names have been excluded.
The bench refused to agree with the contention, saying it did not see how such a situation could even remotely arise.
It said that claims of 47 lakh persons (where doubts have arisen in respect of their parental linkage) and of 29 lakh people (kept in abeyance of married women who have given a certificate of Gram Panchayat Secretary) were still pending and would be subject to verification and covered by publication of another draft NRC subsequently.
The top court said the exercise of preparation of the upgradation of the draft has been going on for three years, for which the time schedule was first laid down by its December 17, 2014 order.
"The final time frame laid down by order of this Court dated July 13, 2017, contemplates the publication of the draft NRC latest by December 31, 2017", it said.
Assam's State Coordinator of NRC Prateek Hajela told the bench that by the scheduled date of December 31, 2017, the scrutiny of about two crore claims for NRC was likely to be completed.
In the application seeking extension of time for publication of the draft NRC, the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, India, has said the claims remaining to be verified are of 38 lakh persons (where the doubts have arisen in respect of some documents and particulars), 47 lakh (where doubts have arisen over their parental linkage) and 29 lakh (cases kept in abeyance of married women who submitted Panchayat Secretary Certificate).
When the bench asked Hajela how much time he needed to process the claims, he said so far as the claims of 38 lakh persons in respect of whom doubts have arisen over documents and particulars were concerned, instructions have been issued to complete the process by January 15, 2018.
"We accordingly direct Hajela to complete the said process relating to the above 38 lakh claims on or before December 31, 2017 by deployment of additional manpower and resources," it said.
The NRC of 1951 is being updated for Assam in accordance with the tripartite agreement between the state and central governments and the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was arrived at in 2005 to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.
The apex court was earlier told that as on November 22, a total of 3.29 crore claims were made for inclusion in the NRC, which is being prepared to identify illegal migrants.