Allaying the fears of over 40 lakh persons whose names were not included in the draft Assam NRC, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that exclusion will not affect their voting rights in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls provided their names feature in the electoral rolls.
The top court asked the ECI to clarify what action it will take if a person's name is not included in the final Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) to be published on July 31, but it features in the electoral rolls. A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Depak Gupta and Sanjiv Khana asked the ECI to provide it the data by March 28 about the addition and deletion of names from voters' list as revised in January for 2017, 2018 and 2019.
At the outset, the bench asked the ECI secretary, who had been summoned by the court, what will be the status of the persons whose names do not feature in the draft NRC but feature in the electoral rolls.
On March 8, the apex court had asked the poll panel secretary to appear before it for Tuesday's hearing in connection with a PIL alleging that several categories of persons in Assam have been deprived of voting rights ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. The secretary replied that exclusion will not have any bearing on the voting rights of such individuals. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for the ECI, said it had already been stated this in 2014.
He pointed out that the court should not entertain this petition filed by Gopal Seth and Susanta Sen, residents of Assam, as contrary to their claims, their names were never deleted from the electoral rolls in the past three years. Any observation from the court in this kind of petition would amount to huge adverse publicity for the ECI as if it were doing something wrong, Singh said. The bench said it would further hear the matter on March 28.
The apex court had sought personal appearance of the ECI secretary as despite a notice being issued on February 1, no one had appeared to represent the poll panel. The PIL alleged that a category of persons whose names were deleted from the voter list included some whose names appeared in the draft NRC published on July 30, 2018. The petition claimed these people had voted in the last Lok Sabha election held in 2014.
The plea also submitted that there was a second category of people whose names were not included in the complete draft NRC, but they subsequently filed claims for inclusion of their names in it. They had voted in the previous Lok Sabha elections and were waiting for inclusion of their names in the voters' list.
The third category of people included those who have been declared as foreigners by the foreigners' tribunal as well as the Guwahati High Court. The court's order was stayed by the apex court. The fourth category of people comprised those who had already been declared foreigners by the foreigners' tribunal and such declarations were set aside by the apex court. However, their names have been deleted from the voters' list pursuant to the order of the foreigners' tribunal, the petition said. According to the petition, the fifth category is of people whose names have not been included in the draft NRC, but other members of their families, including parents, have been included in the NRC and they have filed their claims for the inclusion of their names.
"The above mentioned five categories of people whose names have not been included in the voters' list are going to be deprived of their constitutional as well as statutory rights to vote in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election to be held in April 2019," the petition said.