The Supreme Court on Wednesday opened the filing of claims and objections for inclusion and exclusion of names in the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam, in which around 40 lakh people have been left out.

A bench headed by CJI-designate Ranjan Gogoi made it clear that second opportunity was being given to those left out of the NRC, keeping in mind the "enormous magnitude" of the issue. It said the claims and objections can be filed for 60 days starting September 25.

Assam NRC
People wait in queue to check their names on the draft list at the National Register of Citizens (NRC) centre at a village in Nagaon district, Assam state, India, July 30, 2018.REUTERS/Stringer

"We are of the view that all that which we are required to do at this stage is to open the filing of claims and objections with regard to inclusion in the draft NRC published in July this year," the bench, which also comprised Justice R F Nariman, said.

"Usually a person cannot have the opportunity to prove it in a second chance. But keeping in mind the magnitude of the issue, we are permitting the second chance to prove the claim," it said. The bench referred to the 15 documents, to be used for verification of the citizenship claims of those who have been left out, and said that for the time being, only 10 could be used for ascertaining the claims for 30 days from September 25.

It said the issue whether the five other documents could also be permitted for ascertaining the citizenship claims, would be decided after Prateek Hajela, the coordinator of Assam NRC, offer his suggestions on these documents. It directed Hajela to file a report in a sealed cover on the feasibility of using the five excluded documents, in verifying claims and objections with regard to finalisation of the NRC.

Supreme Court of India
A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi February 18, 2014.REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

It also cautioned him against sharing any information with any authority including "the legislature, the executive and the judiciary without prior leave of the court. "We have found out that the five documents are capable to be manufactured," the bench said. Highlighting the possible abuse of certain documents, the bench said a legacy document establishing the family-tree was allowed. It gave an example saying suppose a person had claimed that he was the grandson of Mr 'X', which was found to be incorrect by authorities.

Now, the same person cannot claim that he was the grandson of Mr 'Y' to get included in the list. Attorney General K K Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and the Assam government respectively, said the left out persons needed to be given an opportunity as the "consequences are grave".

Venugopal said almost 30 per cent people are illiterate and they did not know how to comply with the criteria for establishing the citizenship. The court also took note of the confidential report filed by Hajela and rejected the Centre's plea that it be given the documents. "We are of the view that keeping in mind the sensitive nature of the information, the said record should remain in the custody of the court," it said.

Assam NRC
Villagers wait outside the National Register of Citizens (NRC) centre to get their documents verified by government officials, at Mayong Village in Morigaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam.Reuters

The bench posted the matter for hearing on October 23. For the time being, 10 legacy documents can be used for inclusion and exclusion in the draft NRC, which should have been issued by various authorities and corporations since midnight of March 24, 1971. These include land documents like registered sale deed, permanent residential certificate issued from outside the State, passport and LIC insurance policy of the relevant period.

Other documents which can be relied upon include any license or certificate issued by a government authority of the relevant period, papers showing service or employment under government or public sector undertaking, bank or post office accounts, birth certificates, educational certificate and records or processes pertaining to courts, provided they are part of a processing in a Judicial or Revenue Court.

The final draft NRC list was published on July 30 in which names of 2.89 crore of the 3.29 crore people were included. The names of 40,70,707 people did not figure in the list. Of these, 37,59,630 names have been rejected and the remaining 2,48,077 are on hold. The first draft of the NRC for Assam was published on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1 in accordance with the top court's direction.

Names of 1.9 crore people out of the 3.29 crore applicants were incorporated then. 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.