Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal today faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for his "intervention" in the process of publication of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which is being monitored by the top court.
The apex court observed that when it was monitoring the process of preparation and publication of the draft NRC, which is meant to identify original residents of the state to check illegal migration, through a court-appointed committee, no agency or authority can make such a statement.
A bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman warned that if the authorties intervened in the matter like this, it would "wash off its hands" as it does not appreciate such moves.
"We do not appreciate any other authority intervening in the matter of preparation and publication of the draft NRC when this court has been monitoring the process," it said.
The counsel representing Assam government said there was no intention on the part of the Chief Minister to interfere in the apex court proceedings.
During the hearing, the bench was informed that though the deadline for publication of draft NRC was said to be March 31, 2018, the Chief Minister has stated that this would be done on or before December 2017.
"Last time you had told us that you will do it by March 2018. It is good that you are doing it. But we have an on- record statement of Chief Minister of Assam that the draft NRC will be published in December 2017. Let him supervise then. We will wash off our hands.
"When the Supreme Court is monitoring it, we don't see any other agency or authority to say that we will do it like this. Our attention is drawn to the Chief Minister's statement that he has revised the date to December 31, 2017," it said.
The apex court also observed that it has spent time and energy for almost two years for this and it was "not fair" on the part of the Chief Minister to make such a statement.
"When we are monitoring, how can anybody or any agency say this? We have spent two years time and energy on it. It is not fair to the court," the bench observed.
The court noted in its order that though Prateek Hajela, state coordinator, NRC Assam, had earlier stated before it that the date of publication of draft NRC would be around March 2018, now he has said that it would be published by December end this year.
"Statement of the state coordinator is pursuant to the statement of the Chief Minister of Assam that draft NRC would be published on or before December 31, 2017," it noted.
"Be that as it may, we now understand that date of publication of draft NRC is on or before December 31, 2017," it said while adding that the budgetary allocation should be made available so that the work could be done by the year end.
However, the top court also said that if the coordinator faces any difficulty, including intervention by any other authority, he shall forthwith report it to the court.
Meanwhile, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar informed the bench that former Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta, heading a committee which was already entrusted some task by the court, has expressed his inability to oversee the construction of the fencing in the western front of the India-Bangladesh border.
Kumar said Gupta has cited personal reasons, including health, and has declined to take up the work related to construction of fencing in the western front of the border.
When the Solicitor General suggested some names to oversee the work, the bench said, "we would like to give it to a person who is not holding any office as government servant. We would like to give the work to a public spirited person. You can think over it and give us some names".
The court also said it will have to constitute another committee for the work and asked the solicitor general and the counsel representing other parties to suggest some names within seven days.
It said that it would finalise the name "in chamber" and pass an order with regard to the role of committee.
The Solicitor General also told the court that fencing work along the Indo-Bangladesh border was going on but it had to be stopped in some stretches due to heavy monsoon rains.
"Whatever you do, it is quite clear that some part of the border cannot be fenced as there are riverine areas. That is the most porous part of the border," the bench observed.
However, Kumar said the government was doing its best in the area, including the stretch of 48.11 km of riverine area, and has installed floodlights and increased patrolling there.
"We would like our committee to go there and see what is there and then give us the details," the court said.
At the fag end of the hearing, when some counsel raked up the issue of smuggling across the border, the bench said, "smuggling and human trafficking, do not raise it before us".
The apex court was hearing a matter relating to fencing of Indo-Bangla border.