SC tells Assam, EC to ensure LS poll process, NRC work go on simultaneously

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday directed to convene a meeting of the Assam Chief Secretary, Election Commission and the State Co-ordinator of NRC to find a way to avoid any clash of work involving preparation of final NRC of Assam and holding of Lok Sabha elections as it extended the publication of final NRC till July 31.

The court said that under no circumstances, the publication of the final NRC should be stretched beyond July 31, 2019 — one month more than the original timeline of June 30 for the publication of final NRC.

The work for preparation of the final NRC and the holding of Lok Sabha election in Assam has to go on simultaneously without any of the two coming each other’s way, said the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman while asking the Election Commission, Chief Secretary, Assam and State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela to devise the way to deal with the situation.

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“What should the optimum number of state government employees presently engaged in NRC work who can be legitimately continued in such work and what should be the number of such employees who can be taken out for election duty without affecting the NRC work is a matter that has to be sorted out between the State Coordinator, the state government and the Election Commission,” the court said in its order.

The meeting, likely to take place next week, would include the Election Commission Secretary, the Assam Chief Secretary and Hajela.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta took the responsibility of arranging the meeting of the three and report the outcome to the court within seven days.

The court fixed next hearing on February 5.

Hajela, in his report to the top court, had said that in view of the scheduled Lok Sabha elections, “the publication of the final NRC may stretch up to the end of September 2019”.

He had said that “if some arrangement can be made to retain some of the NRC staff without they being taken for election duty, the period can be shortened”.

As the court wanted that some balance be struck so that both could go on simultaneously, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for Assam said: “Once elections are declared, then everything is under the control of Election Commission and they will tell their requirements.”

“OK, then we will talk to the Election Commission. We will work out some way to ensure that both the processes are carried out simultaneously,” CJI Gogoi said.

Asserting that the time line for the publication of final NRC would not stretch beyond July 31, the court said: “We are of the view that in no circumstances, the publication of the final NRC should be stretched beyond 31st July 2019… We are of the view that both processes, i.e. the preparation of final NRC and the election, should receive equal importance and proceeded with simultaneously without one affecting the other.”

Making it clear that neither the preparation of final NRC nor the holding of general elections in the state along with the rest of the country would be at the cost of hindering or curbing the other, the court said “everybody has to be reasonable” and asserted that “we can’t see any date beyond July 31” for the final NRC.

On the procedure to be adopted for the verification of 36.2 lakh claims and about two lakh objections, the court decided to keep off it, leaving it to Hajela to device the procedure for doing the same.

“We are of the view that the court ought not to pass any orders … and instead leave the matter to the State Coordinator to adopt such method/s as may be considered just, proper and appropriate so as to ensure a fair hearing to all the claimants and, at the same time, to ensure that final NRC is published on the date specified by the court i.e. 31st July 2019,” the court said in its order.


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