In a major development in Assam ahead of the publication of the controversial NRC, authorities have issued fresh notices to people in Muslim-dominated regions of the flood-hit state to attend re-verification hearings hundreds of kilometres away, in blatant violation of Supreme Court guidelines. NRC sources have said this re-check is to guard against "legacy data trading" among people from different districts.
The people receiving these notices have been given a maximum of three days to attend hearings in places up to 400 kilometres away. However, according to guidelines on the NRC website, notices must be served a minimum of 15 days before the date of hearing.
NDTV has accessed a dozen notices issued on August 3 asking people to attend hearings, scheduled between August 5 and August 7, at locations 300 kilometres away.
Mukhtar Ali, 40, and 18 of his relatives, have been asked to attend a hearing at Golaghat, which is approximately 350 kilometres away, on Wednesday.
"The floods abated only a week ago, and we have barely recovered from it. How can we go to Golaghat when we don't even know where it is? I got the notice on August 4 and I am supposed to get there on August 7. I will need around Rs. 20,000 but I don't even have Rs. 200. I feel like killing myself," he said.
In its order dated April 10, the court directed that hearings be arranged in nearby places. Authorities led by state NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela have violated that order as well.
Debabrata Saikia, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly, has written to the government, urging "adequate security cover" and logistical support for people travelling to these hearings.
"May be there is some hidden instruction from the state and centre to try to delay... Supreme Court in past order has opined there should not be inconvenience, but when NRC gave 24 hours notice, this is major inconvenience," he added.
Bijon Mahajan. Assam BJP spokesperson, was firm on the need for re-verification, even if the top court ruled against it, but admitted the hearings should not inconvenience people.
"Re-verification is needed for a error-free NRC. That's why centre and state pushed for it, but the court turned it down so without getting into that aspect it is still the mandate of the NRC authorities to prepare a error free NRC but not at the cost of causing inconvenience to people," he said.
Last month, the Supreme Court turned down a request to have up to 20 per cent of the names, particularly in districts bordering Bangladesh, re-checked. The ruling was given after Mr Hajela said 27 per cent of those names had been re-verified.
These violations come only days after the BJP government in Assam disregarded another order and leaked sensitive NRC data that it claimed proved its point about lower rates of exclusion in districts where non-indigenous population is greater.