Blame for Assam’s NRC chaos lies with the Supreme Court but Narendra Modi, BJP will use it happily
While political parties are carefully working out their strategies on how to milk the issue of Assam’s NRC updation, one institution that will have to share the bulk of blame for making lakhs of citizen-residents insecure is the Supreme Court.
It was the Supreme Court that laid out a roadmap to ensure that the “entire updated NRC is published by the end of January 2016”. The reason that it has been delayed by over two-and-half years is something most political parties welcome privately.
What the court said
The opening line of the December 2014 judgment of the Supreme Court on the petitions challenging Section 6A of the Citizenship Act was a dead giveaway to which way the court was headed on the issue.
“A Prophet is without honour in his own country. Substitute ‘citizen’ for ‘prophet’ and you will get the gist of the various writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India assailing Section 6A of the Citizenship Act.”
The Section 6A, which came about as a result of the Assam Accord of 1985, deals with the special provision in law with regard to “citizenship of persons covered by the Assam Accord”.
The court ordered that the National Registry of Citizens (NRC) be updated in a time-bound manner. In doing so, it took the matter out of the hands of the government and, thus, left itself open to the charge of intruding into the domain of the Executive without, perhaps, realising the pitfalls of doing that.
If anything goes wrong, fingers would be pointed at the apex court, the ground for which has already been laid. Look at the several public pronouncements by senior politicians, including those in the BJP, referring to the fact that the entire exercise of NRC updation is being overseen by the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court also waded into the contentious debate of Indians-versus-outsiders that has been raging in Assam for decades by expressing concern over “why 67 years after Independence, the Eastern border (Indo-Bangladesh) is left porous”.
The petitions before the Supreme Court raised the plea “that the sovereignty and integrity of India is itself at stake as a massive influx of illegal migrants from a neighbouring country has affected this core constitutional value”.
On illegal migrants & deportation
In its judgment, authored by Justice Rohinton Nariman, the bench, also comprising Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who incidentally hails from Assam, referred the matter to be placed before an appropriate bench to settle important questions of law.
This included whether Section 6A is against the rights of Indian citizens because it “permits a class of migrants to become deemed Citizens of India without any reciprocity from Bangladesh and without taking the oath of allegiance to the Indian Constitution”.
More importantly, the bench “considered the necessity of issuing appropriate directions to the Union of India and the State of Assam to ensure that effective steps are taken to prevent illegal access to the country from Bangladesh; to detect foreigners belonging to the stream of 1.1.1966 to 24.3.1971 so as to give effect to the provisions of Section 6(3) & (4) of the Citizenship Act and to detect and deport all illegal migrants who have come to the State of Assam after 25.3.1971”.
Both the Centre and the Assam government were also “broadly in agreement in respect of the steps that are required to be taken” to deal with the issue.
Among other things, the bench, “while taking note of the existing mechanism/procedure for deportation keeping in view the requirements of international protocol”, directed the Union of India to “enter into necessary discussions with the Government of Bangladesh to streamline the procedure of deportation”.
It also asked the government to inform the court about the “result of the said exercise” on the next date of hearing.
Making its intention clear, the bench then went on to say that the “implementation of the aforesaid directions will be monitored” by it after three months. It didn’t stop at that, and ordered: “In the event it becomes so necessary, the court will entrust such monitoring to be undertaken by an empowered committee which will be constituted by this court, if and when required.”
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