The Supreme Court on Tuesday said there will be no coercive action by authorities against over 40 lakh people, whose names do not figure in Assam's National Register of Citizens, observing that it was merely a draft.
The top court asked the Centre to formulate modalities and the standard operating procedures including timelines for deciding claims and objections arising out of the publication of the draft NRC.
A bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman asked the Centre to submit the modalities and SOPs before it for approval within August 16.
"This court would like to observe that what has been published is only a complete draft NRC, which naturally being a draft cannot be a basis for any coercive action by any authority," the bench said.
It said that the modalities and SOPs prepared by ministry concerned of government of India should be "fair and giving reasonable opportunity to everyone".
The bench said under the rules, the local registrar is first required to issue notice to file claim and objections to the draft NRC and then give a reasonable hearing after providing equal opportunity to all.
At the outset, NRC Assam coordinator Prateek Hajela placed before the court its status report giving details of publication of the draft NRC yesterday.
The 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.
To this, the bench asked Hajela, what was the future course of action after the publication of draft NRC.
He 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.
"From August 8, 2018, onwards the people who have been left out of the second draft can approach the local registrar or the NRC seva kendra to find out the reasons for their non-inclusion," he said.
The bench then asked Hajela about the local registrars and of which level these officers are.
He said that these local registrars are gazetted officers taken from different departments for NRC works.
"You should place before court, how do you propose to do the exercise of claims and objections as it has to be a fair procedure and the persons aggrieved should be given fair opportunity," the bench said.
Hajela replied that he will hold discussions with Registrar General of India and would work out the modalities and it will be placed before the court for approval.
The bench said, "We read it somewhere that you have fixed December 31, as a deadline for publication of final NRC."
Hajela said that "it is wrong, no date has been fixed as the deadlines can only be fixed by the court. The date of December 31, has been fixed for budgeting exercise".
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said that the ministry concerned is willing to formulate modalities and the SOP to deal with the process of claims and objections and that courts should assure or direct that no coercive action shall be taken against anyone till equal opportunity is given to all.
"You (Centre) give us the modalities or SOPs. We will go through it. If it is appropriate we will approve it and if it is not appropriate we will reject it. Tell us what do you think? It has to be a fair procedure with equal opportunity given to all," the bench said.
The AG told the court that the government is contemplating to develop biometrics of the 40 lakh people, who have been excluded from second draft NRC, so that if a declared foreigner escapes to another state under a false identity, then he can be tracked by the authorities.
"You do whatever you like. At this moment, we would not like to comment. You do it, then we will examine it. Our silence is not a symbol of agreement nor assurance," the bench said.
The first draft of the NRC for Assam was published on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1 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 last year, would be scrutinised and included in the subsequent list, if found genuine.