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Centre reviewing ration card reliability
Spl Correspondent
 NEW DELHI, April 20 - Months after the Gauhati High Court declared panchayat-issued residency certificates as invalid, the Central Government has said that it is considering the reliability of the ration card as a supporting document for the purpose of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The Centre’s latest stand is part of the affidavit it has filed in the Supreme Court, even as five to six Special Leave Petitions (SLPs) have been filed in the Apex Court challenging the Gauhati High Court’s order on the validity of the residency certificate issued by panchayat secretaries. The first of the SLP is coming up for hearing on Monday.

Residency certificates issued by gaon panchayat secretaries will no longer be considered as a valid link document for NRC, the Gauhati High Court had ruled.

The High Court, in a strongly-worded judgement, had said, “If a panchayat secretary issues such certificate and the same is later disbelieved by the Foreigners Tribunal or High Court and the certificate holder is eventually declared as a foreigner, the issuing authority would run the risk of issuing the certificate to a foreigner.”

“Such an act may be construed to be an act of harbouring an illegal migrant, which may amount to a gross misconduct exposing himself to departmental action besides attracting penal consequences. Such consequences may also visit the countersigning authority (which is the BDO),” the Court had stated.

An estimated 48 lakh people are likely to be affected by the order, which has created a political storm in the State.

According to the Central Government affidavit, there is a proposal to relook at the reliability of ration cards and the matter as to whether ration cards should be discarded is under consideration, though a final decision is yet to be taken. The Centre informed the Court that a fresh look is being taken at each of the documents.

Meanwhile, the draft NRC is now scheduled to be published on December 31, after Hajeela’s plea for publication of the draft NRC on March 31, 2018 was turned down by the Court. According to the original plans, the draft NRC was scheduled to be published on March 31, but it missed the deadline.

The matter came up for hearing before the Bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman on Thursday, when NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela made a presentation, said Assam Government counsel Shuvodeep Roy.

Hajeela informed the Court that he has received Rs 90 crore for the NRC update work though he mentioned that he is facing a problem of renewing the System Integration contract that expired on March 31.

The Supreme Court suggested that he take up the problem with the NRC Coordination Committee headed by the State Chief Secretary. The Register General of India (RGI) has been made part of the Committee.

The Supreme Court advised that the Coordination Committee will give the go-ahead. Since the Committee is supervising the NRC Coordination work, it will give the approval.

Meanwhile, All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya pointing out that as the Government of India, the Government of Assam and the NRC Coordination Committee have been given full powers, they expect a Bangladeshi-less NRC to be prepared.

He demanded that district-level committees under the chairmanship of the Deputy Commissioners be set up to undertake NRC update work. Bhattacharya also demanded that field verifications and the family tree should be done together.

The AASU leader also rejected the affidavit submitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs on completion of fencing work, describing them as unacceptable. If the affidavit is anything to go by, then the India-Bangladesh border will never be sealed, he said.

Alleging that fundamentalist and jehadi elements are entering the country through the porous India-Bangladesh border, Bhattacharya said shoot-at-sight order should be issued and all illegal Bangladeshis should be evicted.

The AASU leader added that the Centre should fix a time-frame for sealing the international border.

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