Flagging concerns over illegal immigrants getting access to Aadhaar cards, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Manipur government to issue the identity cards, subject to verification, to those who lost theirs in the wake of the ethnic violence that rocked the state.
“The Deputy Director General of UIDAI, Regional Office, Gauhati and the Secretary Department of Home Affairs, Manipur, shall take all steps to ensure that Aadhaar cards are provided to all displaced persons who may have lost their Aadhaar cards in the process of displacement, whose records are already available with UIDAI. In other words, it is clarified that UIDAI, which would have the biometric details of persons to whom Aadhaar cards were already issued, would match the claim of any displaced person who has lost the Aadhaar card… Necessary verification shall be carried out before issuing Aadhaar cards,” ordered a three-judge Bench presided by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud.
The Bench also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra was perusing the recommendations of the three-member committee of former High Court judges appointed by it to look into the humanitarian issues arising out of the Manipur crisis.
The committee headed by former Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Justice Gita Mittal, had recommended reissue of identity documents to the displaced who had lost them.
Considering this, the CJI said “somebody will have to verify that these are genuine residents or citizens. What if someone is an illegal entrant”?
Senior advocate Vibha Datta Makhija, appearing for the committee, said, “That’s why we need the help from the authorities, to verify genuinity.”
The court said “that’s why we will say authorities will verify if the person is entitled to an Aadhaar card. We can’t pass a general direction”.
Makhija responded that it will be “post-verification”.
“Fair enough. As long as there is some verification by the authorities, it is alright because once the SC issues a direction, no officer on the ground will dare to pass any order to the contrary… Those who already had Aadhaar cards and lost them, it will be easy to find as their biometrics would already be available on the database. They only need to be matched. So this will not allow new people who are not legal entrants Aadhaar cards,” the CJI remarked.
Senior advocate Ranjith Kumar, appearing for the Manipur Bar Association, said there may be illegal immigrants even among those already holding Aadhaar and “verification may be necessary”.
The CJI responded, “We have said proper verification will be carried out.”
Considering the other recommendations of the committee, the Bench also asked the Centre to nominate a nodal officer in Delhi who can direct the grievances to appropriate channel. “In order to accommodate the requirements of the displaced persons from Manipur who may have temporarily resettled outside the state, it is directed that the Ministry of Home Affairs shall nominate one nodal officer in Delhi who would guide petitions/complaints and direct the grievances of such displaced persons to the appropriate channel.”
On the question of unclaimed bodies lying in morgues, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the state government said, “As directed by the committee, steps are being taken. Identification, handing over, cremation etc, we are in touch with them (committee).”
Some of the counsel appearing for the petitioners said the bodies should be buried and not cremated as there may be claims raised in the future.
Annoyed, the CJI said it did not plan to run the Manipur administration from the Supreme Court.
“Either we scrap the committee and hear the matter after every four weeks, because we are not going to hear it every week. We don’t have time to hear this every week because we don’t propose to run the Manipur administration in the Supreme Court… We trust the committee, the committee is handling it.”
Senior advocate Anand Grover said lawyers are not being allowed to practise in the Manipur High Court.
The CJI told him, “That is one side of the picture. We don’t believe that the HC of Manipur is not functioning.”
Grover submitted, “I never said it. I appeared. All I am saying is a particular community lawyers not allowed to appear.”
The Bench put the query to the HC Bar Association president who was present in the court.
“Are lawyers of any community prevented from appearing before the HC,” the CJI asked him.
The bar body president responded, “No. Everyone is allowed. Anybody can appear before the HC, either by physical or virtual mode… These are all false (allegations).”
The Bench then asked him to provide some orders which would indicate that lawyers of all communities had appeared before the HC.
“We want to be satisfied and our conscience has to be satisfied. We don’t want any tabulated statement. Give us a sheaf of orders indicating that lawyers belonging to different communities had appeared,” the CJI said.
Ranjith Kumar urged the court “not to segregate lawyers community wise merely based on” statements across the Bar.
The CJI, however, said, “Our conscience has to be satisfied that members of the Bar are not being prevented irrespective of their religious or community affiliation. Give us a compilation of orders. We will quickly run through it. I think this is the best way to go forward.”
The SG said, “There will be a conscious attempt to aggravate the situation, unfortunately using the forum of this court.”
The CJI responded, “It is our duty to ensure that the court’s process is not misused. Equally, our conscience has to be satisfied that there is no barrier to access to justice.”
In its order, the Bench said, “The Members of the Bar shall ensure that no lawyer who seeks to address the court is denied access to the court proceedings. Any violation of this order shall be treated as a contempt of the above direction of this court and any lawyer contravening these directions would be liable to be proceeded against accordingly.”
SG Mehta said, “Your Lordships have issued this direction based on irresponsible statements” and urged the Bench to “please ignore any such innuendo”.
The CJI clarified, “We have not said anybody was denied access. We have only cautioned the members of the Bar — don’t prevent anybody from appearing… based only on our conscience that everybody must be allowed to appear before the court. We have not acted on any complaint.”
The court added, “We do not want to aggravate the situation, therefore, we have not referred to the submission but our conscience has also to be satisfied… We are a people’s court, we know the limits of our remit as well. Always, giving a hearing is part of a healing process… Equally we know where to draw the line when we pass an order.”