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SC to take up issue of original inhabitants in next hearing
SPL CORRESPONDENT
 NEW DELHI, Oct 12 - The Supreme Court will take up the issue of original inhabitants of Assam in the next hearing in the case relating to validity of Panchayat certificates.A division bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Naveen Sinha on Thursday rejected an intervention petition filed by the Assam Congress. The party wanted to intervene in the case which challenged the Gauhati High Court order rejecting the validity of the Panchayat certificates issued as proof of citizenship for the purpose of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Meanwhile, State Coordinator for NRC Prateek Hajela submitted a report stating that 17.40 lakh of the total 47.09 lakh applicants have been identified as Original Inhabitants of Assam, while the remaining 26.13 lakh applications are yet to be identified.

The 29.69 lakh included 1.29 lakh unmarried women, 26.13 lakh married women and 2.32 lakh male, the report said.

Secretary of the Assam State Jamiat Dr Hafiz Rafiqe Islam, meanwhile, told this newspaper that their counsel raised objection to Hajela’s report, arguing that the definition of the Original Inhabitant has not been finalised so far.

“We wanted to know on what basis the original inhabitants have been identified, when the issue has not been settled so far,” he said.

Following the argument, the Supreme Court said it would take up the issue in its next hearing on November 15.

In an indication of the case gaining high profile, several of the parties challenging the High Court order have hired top-notch lawyers like Salman Khurshid, Sanjay Hegde and VK Tanka.

The Gauhati High Court, on February 28, ordered that residency certificates issued by Gaon Panchayat secretaries will no longer be considered as a valid link document for NRC.

“If a Panchayat secretary issues such a certificate and the same is later disbelieved by the Foreigners Tribunal or the 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,” the order said.

“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 order stated.

It was noted that the NRC office has till date received nearly 45 lakh such link documents signed by Panchayat secretaries (rural) and Circle Officers (for urban areas) after the Registrar General of India approved it.

Several individuals and organisations filed a Special Leave Petition challenging the High Court order, including Rupa Jan Begum, Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, Arshad Madani, All Assam Minority Students’ Union, and Assam Women Social Justice Forum.

Meanwhile, adviser to the All Assam Students’ Union Samujjal Bhattacharya hailed the Supreme Court’s initiatives.

“We have full confidence in the Supreme Court and are sure that a final NRC would be published without the name of illegal foreigners,” he said.

The Supreme Court has been monitoring the NRC update process and set a deadline of December 31 for publication of the draft NRC.

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