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By Sumit Saxena

On Thursday, 24 January the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) case was scheduled at 3:00 p.m. before the bench comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi and Justice R F Nariman on Thursday.  At 2:50 p.m., the courtroom was abuzz; advocates, Assam government officials and journalists were busy confabulating on the nature of CJI’s stance on the matter. The courtroom was in commotion. Prateek Hajela, the state coordinator for NRC project in Assam was running helter-skelter to build-up his argument before the bench. A lawyer feeding into Hajela ears suddenly ran to the rear of the courtroom and struck a conversation with an Assam government official. It was discreet! The lawyer was curious to understand the composition of the task force in the state machinery handling the disposal of pleas.

Discontent with the lawyer, Hajeela rushed to the official and queried to ascertain the actual number of local administration officials required for the project. He was seen having intense discussion with lawyers representing NRC.  The officials were dabbling and seemed uncertain on the exact strength needed for the job. A young lawyer from the NRC group swiftly got back to the government official to understand the nature of local administration involved. She queried is it Patwari, Tehsildar or District Collector, what should we inform the CJI in order to extend the deadline for the final report on NRC.

The government official seemed to be in a tizzy too. He hurriedly responded, the local administration is composed of junior engineers, local registrars etc., the lawyer rushed back to Hajela and returned in a minute to clarify, the actual nature of local registrars. The official explained that during the elections it would be extremely difficult to spare local staff, and inform the CJI that under these circumstances both NRC claims disposal and parliamentary elections could be conducted simultaneously.  This last minute hurdle lasted for 12 minutes, and the NRC group was ready with their defence.  It was apparent that Hajela was struggling to identify the exact strength, and may not be convinced with the argument to extend the deadline.

Suddenly, the CJI and Justice Nariman appeared, and it was pin-drop-silence. Hajela had sought extension till August 15, 2019, to complete the final publication of the report. The Bench rubbished the argument and tasked Hajela to organize a meeting of the Election Commission, Assam Chief Secretary and also involve Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, and thereafter, submit a report within a week. The matter was posted for further hearing on February 5.

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