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NRC draft: Assam security situation eases after SC upholds validity of panchayat secretary certificate, delinks 'original inhabitant' clause

Supreme Court on Tuesday passed two judgments putting to rest all speculations over acceptance of certificates issued by secretaries of Gaon Panchayats (GP) in Assam as admissible document for supporting claims to include names in National Register of Citizens and apprehension over inclusion of names in the updated NRC on the basis whether an applicant is an "original inhabitant" or not.

 NRC draft: Assam security situation eases after SC upholds validity of panchayat secretary certificate, delinks original inhabitant clause

Supreme Court of India. AP

The apex court set aside an order of the Gauhati High Court passed on 28 February by which certificate issued by the secretary of the village panchayat and countersigned by the local revenue official (in respect of females who have migrated to other villages after marriage or such certificates issued by jurisdictional circle officers in respect of urban areas) mentioned in the 'illustrative list of documents admissible' as a supporting document had been held by the high court to be invalid and hence ineffective in the process of verification of claims for inclusion in the NRC.

The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, however, made it clear in the judgment that the certificates issued by the GP Secretary/Executive Magistrate will be acted upon only to establish a linkage between the holder of such certificate and the person(s) from whom legacy is being claimed. "The certificate will be put to such limited use only if the contents of the certificate are found to be established on due and proper enquiry and verification," the judgment states.

The bench clarified that: "The certificate issued by the G.P. Secretary, by no means, is proof of citizenship. Such proof will come only if the link between the claimant and the legacy person (who has to be a citizen) is established. The certificate has to be verified at two stages. The first is the authenticity of the certificate itself; and the second is the authenticity of the contents thereof. The latter process of verification is bound to be an exhaustive process in the course of which the source of information of the facts and all other details recorded in the certificate will be ascertained after giving an opportunity to the holder of the certificate."

The bench also observed that from a conjoint reading of the provisions of the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994 i.e. Sections 19(1) (vi), 21 and 122, it would appear that directions for issuance of such certificate can come within the ambit of the jurisdiction of the authorities under the Act in which event the view taken by the high court and the contentions advanced on behalf of the State that the said document is a 'private document' would be "legally fragile".

In a separate judgment, the bench said that apprehensions over term "originally inhabitants of the state of Assam" in respect of the process of updating the NRC were "wholly unfounded". The court said that it did not find any reason to issue any direction or clarification as to the meaning of the term "original inhabitants of the state of Assam" as sought by the petitioner and stated in its judgment: "The exercise of upgradation of NRC is not intended to be one of identification and determination of who are originally inhabitants of the State of Assam. The sole test for inclusion in the NRC is citizenship under the Constitution of India and under the Citizenship Act including Section 6A thereof. Citizens who are originally inhabitants/residents of the State of Assam and those who are not are at par for inclusion in the NRC."

The State Coordinator, NRC Prateek Hajela, in a report submitted to the Supreme Court on 10 October stated that of 47 lakh applicants claimed inclusion on the basis of certificates issued by Gaon Panchayat secretaries about 17.40 lakh are "original inhabitants" and the registering authority is satisfied with regard to their citizenship.

Following the apex court judgment upholding the admissibility of certificates issued by the GP Secretary/Executive Magistrate, the NRC authority will now be required to verify the claims of about 29 lakh applicants who have submitted such certificates. This, however, is not going to create any additional burden on the NRC authority ahead of 31 December deadline set by the Supreme Court for publication of the first draft of the updated citizenship register in Assam as the apex court had already set the time frame in respect of different categories of applicants.

The Supreme Court bench while rejecting an appeal by the Centre for extension of publication of the draft updated NRC directed the state NRC coordinator to publish, on the expiry of midnight on 31 December, the first draft of the NRC pertaining to the 2.38 crore claims which have been verified or are to be verified. Thus, the claims of 29 lakh females who have submitted certificates issued by the GP Secretary/Executive Magistrate would be covered during the publication of another draft of the NRC. However, with the apex court clearing the doubts over the validity of such certificates, the work of publication of the second draft can also be expected to be expedited as manpower and resources at the disposal of the NRC authority would be available for verification of less number of claims as compared to the first draft.

The All Assam Students' Union has hailed the Supreme Court judgment on the validity and verification of the GP Secretary certificate saying that this has now made the process of verification of the claims for inclusion in the updated NRC watertight and ensured that no illegal migrant can include his or her names on basis of any fake document.

Welcoming the judgments, the All Assam Minority Students’ Union said that this has now removed the apprehension of exclusion of names of genuine Indian citizens in the updated NRC. The minority student body said that the Gauhati High Court order had created legal complications and apprehension in respect of claims by 26.13 lakh married women and 1.24 lakh unmarried women who had submitted certificates issued by GP Secretary as link documents of their legacy claim which the apex court’s judgment has removed.

Describing the Supreme Court judgments as "historic and bold", the Opposition Congress rushed to flay the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments at the Centre and in the state of "remaining mute spectators" and not challenging the Gauhati High Court order, which the party said, had created uncertainty in respect of claims of about 27 lakh women applicants. Ruling BJP, however, refrained from immediately reacting on the issue and the Supreme Court judgments.

Political reactions notwithstanding, the Supreme Court judgments removing apprehension over the issue of GP certificate, the security worries over publication of the draft of the citizenship register of Sarbananda Sonowal-led government in Assam can be expected to reduce now. The Sonowal government has already beefed up security measures for NRC field verification process across the state by deploying additional companies of Central paramilitary forces at sensitive NRC Seva Kendras as it feared an outbreak of unwarranted law and order situation over the exclusion of names in the updated draft NRC.

For the ruling BJP and the Sonowal government, the NRC issues appear to be a whole new ball game in the wake of the latest Supreme Court judgments.

The author is editor Nezine. He tweets @sushanta_t

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2017 16:00:59 IST