New Delhi: The Supreme Court today pulled up the Assam government for making a "sweeping statement" that 15 per cent of the state population were tribals who have not participated in modernisation and were away from the mainstream.
The top court said it was a "dangerous statement" on the state's behalf and was neither good for the health of the people, nor the government as 15 per cent population was a huge chunk.
"You are making a sweeping statement. You are the state. How can you say so? You are making dangerous statement that 15 per cent population is tribal and they are not in the mainstream," a bench comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman said.
The court's observation came after Assam's counsel referred to this issue and said the government was trying to make them come forward in the ongoing process of updation and publication of draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state.
"This is not the way to do it. From where you are making these statements. These kind of sweeping statements are not good for the health of the people and health of the state. 15 per cent is a huge chunk. If you say 15 per cent population is not in the mainstream, we will ask what have you done in this regard as a state," the bench said.
The NRC of 1951 is being updated for Assam in accordance with the tripartite agreement between the state and central governments and the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was arrived at in 2005 to implement the 1985 Assam Accord.
The apex court was earlier told that as on November 22, a total of 3.29 crore claims have been made for inclusion in the NRC, which is being prepared to identify illegal migrants.
During the hearing, when Assam's counsel told the court they would file an affidavit on the issue of tribals, the bench shot back, "When? We are finishing the matter".
Meanwhile, the apex court reserved its order on the pleas, including those which have sought some clarifications on the issue of who the original inhabitants of state were.
According to the provisions of a clause of Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, "the names of persons who are originally inhabitants of the state of Assam and their children and descendants, who are citizens of India, shall be included in the consolidated list if the citizenship of such persons is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt and to the satisfaction of the registering authority".
During the day's hearing, Attorney General K K Venugopal, representing the Centre, said the entire exercise of updation and publication of draft NRC in Assam was being carried out to identify the illegal migrants.
He said the tribals were not a "highly educated class" but were entitled to be registered in the Assam NRC.
Venugopal said that the term 'originally inhabitants' was required, otherwise all citizens of India would be eligible for NRC registration in Assam.
When some of the petitioners raised the issue of original or originally inhabitants of the state, the bench said it was monitoring an exercise which could have far-reaching consequences on a large number of people.
The court observed that once a person was included in NRC list, it would not reflect in the record as to whether he or she was originally inhabitant or not.
The bench also asked NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela about what was going on the ground in the entire process.
The Attorney General had yesterday told another bench of the apex court, which was hearing a case relating to fixing of accountability for damage to life and property during protests, that the process of publication of NRC could cause unrest in Assam as lakhs of people may lose their citizenship in the exercise.
The apex court had earlier said that a certificate of residency issued by the gram panchayat was not a document of citizenship and was "meaningless" unless supported by some other valid record to make a claim for inclusion in NRC.
It had said it would pass orders on whether the Gauhati High Court was right in invalidating the document for making a claim in the NRC or whether further opportunity needs to be given to the people to establish their claims of citizenship.
A batch of pleas were filed in the top court challenging the Gauhati high court's order holding that a certificate of residency issued by Gram Panchayat (village council) secretary was not a legal and valid document for claim to citizenship.
The draft NRC is required to be published on or before December 31.