File Photo: A woman shows her documents at NRC Seva Kendra in Guwahati

The possibility of National Register of Citizens (NRC) rejection slip being issued in “near future is very bright”, the Assam government said refusing to deploy the newly-appointed Foreigners Tribunal members to clear the backlog of pending cases, a proposal which has been cleared by the Centre.

The NRC authorities clarified that there is no deadline for the issue of rejection slips yet, as the final list is yet to be notified by the Government of India.

“…a policy decision has been taken by the State not to assign regular work to the 200 newly-appointed members of the Foreigners Tribunal since the possibility of NRC rejection slip being issued in near future is very bright,” a Friday order of the Gauhati High Court said quoting Assam government’s decision.

The order said that the Advocate General of Assam RC Borpatragohain submits that as soon as rejection slips are issued, the newly-appointed members of the Foreigners’ Tribunals would be required to decide appeals.

Assam government’s submission seemed to have surprised Assistant Solicitor General RK Dev Choudhury, who clarified to the court that “he has no instruction on how soon the NRC rejection slip would be issued in Assam.”

The officer-in-charge of the exercise too said there is a technical hurdle to the issuing of these slips. “Final NRC has not been notified. There is a technical problem,” NRC state coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma said on Monday when asked about the possibility of issue of rejection slips to NRC rejects.

Sarma said in absence of finality to the list that was published in 2019, it would not be possible to issue rejection slips.

These slips which would have detailed reasons of exclusion would form the basis of appeals of the over 1.9 million NRC rejects whose lives are in limbo. To process these appeals, a total of 200 new foreigners tribunals were formed in September 2019.

But since the publication of the list is 2019, the process has not moved and the list has come under serious criticism from various quarters including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The newly-appointed FT members have been not been given regular posting even as they continue to get salaries.

In December 2019, the Gauhati High Court first questioned why the new FT members have not been posted in their respective stations. The next month, the HC said that it has taken note of the fact that although 221 newly-appointed members were inducted in September 2019 and they are being paid a regular salary, yet, neither any order of posting has been issued nor any work been assigned to these members till today.

The state government had then sent the proposal to the Centre.

In March, the then Assistant Solicitor General SC Keyal told the High Court that an ‘in-principle’ decision has been taken to assign the place of posting to all the newly-recruited members of the FT after a meeting between the state and the Centre. In September, Keyal told Court again that the Centre had no objections to the FT members being assigned new duties even as he cited various reasons for non-issuance of NRC rejection slips.

In a hearing on January 22, the Gauhati HC lashed out at the state government. ”Despite repeated opportunities granted to the state and notwithstanding the approval of the Government of India, Home Department, allowing the State Government to utilise the services of the newly-appointed FT members for deciding pending reference cases, it is unfortunate that no concrete action has been taken by the State till date to assign proper duties to those Officials,” Justice Suman Shyam said. “What is even more surprising is that no valid reason for such delay has been brought to the notice of this Court,” the order added.

On February 12, the Court agreed to grant three weeks to Assistant Solicitor General RK Dev Choudhury and fixed the next hearing on March 17.

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