The Supreme Court on Tuesday severely reprimanded Assam’s NRC coordinator and the Registrar General of India for discussing the modalities to be adopted in finalising the NRC with the media, saying it could have sent them to jail for contempt and restrained them from speaking to journalists without its approval.
A bench comprising justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman termed as “most unfortunate” the statements made by Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) coordinator Prateek Hajela and RGI Sailesh to media on the issue of dealing with claims and objections of those who have been left out in the draft NRC.
“Are you in any manner concerned with the claims and objections to be made... What have you said in the newspapers and tell us, how are you concerned with that,” a visibly angry Justice Gogoi told the officials.
The judges had brought the newspapers with them and at the outset asked Hajela and the RGI to read them and explain as to under what authority they discussed with the media the modalities to be adopted to deal with complaints and objections in finalising the NRC.
Hajela said that he had consulted RGI Shailesh and talked to the media to dispel apprehensions regarding dealing of objections and complaints on the draft NRC.
Both the officials immediately tendered unconditional apology to the bench.
“Don’t forget, you are the officers of the court. Your job is to comply with our directions. How can you go to press like this,” the bench said adding that, it could have sent both of them to jail.
Questioning the authority of the officials, the bench reprimanded them and restrained them from going to media in future on the NRC issue without its prior approval.
“We are appalled after seeing these in newspapers,” it said, adding that the officers were talking about the future course of action which was yet to be submitted by the Centre for the court’s approval.
The court had asked the Centre to formulate standard operating procedures (SoPs) to deal with the claims and objections and here, the persons, “appointed by the us (court)”, were telling the whole nation about the future course of action, it said.
“Who are you to say all that in the press? We should be holding both of you guilty of contempt and sending both of you to jail. Whatever you say they all reflect on us,” the bench said.
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The top court said that it could have taken a “sterner view” of the matter but was letting them off keeping in mind the future task of preparation and publication of the final NRC.
“Your job is not to go to press holding the brief for somebody,” the bench said and fixed the matter on August 16.
The bench said that it had made clear in the last order that no coercive action would be taken against those, whose names are not there in the NRC, as it was merely a draft and the officials went further and gave statements.
“Where is the authority for you to make such statements? What impelled you to go to press like this,” the bench asked, adding, “this is most unfortunate on your (Hajela) and his (RGI) part. Please do not do this in future.”
The apex court had on July 31 said that there will be no coercive action by authorities against over 40 lakh people, whose names do not figure in Assam’s NRC and observed that it was merely a draft.
The top court had asked the Centre to formulate modalities and the SOPs including timelines for deciding claims and objections arising out of the publication of the draft NRC.
The NRC report said that out of 3.29 crore people, names of 2.89 crore have been included in the draft NRC. It further said that names of 40,70,707 people do not figure in the list. Of the these, 37,59,630 names have been rejected and the remaining 2,48,077 are on hold.
Hajela had informed the court that the claims and objections regarding inclusion and exclusion in the NRC could be filed from August 30 to September 28.
He said till August 7, the draft NRC will be displayed or made available to them through seva kendras.
The first draft of the NRC for Assam was published on December 31 according to the top court’s direction. Names of 1.9 crore people out of the 3.29 crore applicants were incorporated.
Assam, which had faced influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only state having an NRC, which was first prepared in 1951.
The top court, which is monitoring the NRC work, had earlier said that the claims of those citizens, whose names do not figure in the draft NRC for Assam published by December 31, 2017, would be scrutinised and included in the subsequent list, if found genuine.