Eyebrows were raised on Friday when the Supreme Court ordered the inter-cadre transfer of Assam NRC Coordinator Prateek Hajela, a 1995 batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya Cadre, to Madhya Pradesh. The order was passed by a Bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde and Rohinton Nariman.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was present in court, asked the Bench: “Is there a reason for this?" CJI Gogoi replied: “No order will be without a reason”. However, the order did not specify any reason. The order triggered a furious debate on the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and whether the court can at all transfer employees in the executive branch.
There was both surprise and consternation. Journalist Maneesh Chhibber tweeted: “As Supreme Court orders Inter-cadre transfer of Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela to Madhya Pradesh on deputation, can't stop myself from wondering under what law can SC do this? What next: transfer of clerks and bureaucrats from one state to another?”
Aman Wadud, a lawyer, took to Twitter to say: “19 lakhs excluded from NRC. Not even a single rejection order issued yet. And the person who was heading NRC is transferred by the Supreme Court. If this not baffling enough, next date of NRC case is 26th November, after current CJI retires. He was presiding over the NRC monitoring bench”
Prateek Hajela has been in charge of the preparation of the National Register of Citizens for the State of Assam. He was tasked with supervising the massive exercise of revising the citizen's list in Assam, a complex project that has navigated controversies related to communal and linguistic divides.
He was seen as an able technocrat who could best tackle the job.
He led a team of over 50,000 officials. An IIT alumnus, he faced criticism from political parties as well as civil society organisations over alleged errors in the citizen's list. The strongest critics included leaders of the ruling BJP, who alleged that many Hindus, who are genuine citizens, are missing in the revised list.
Last month, a Muslim organisation filed a case against Prateek Hajela, accusing him of excluding "genuine Indian citizens" from the NRC and acting out of bias.
More than 19 lakh people in Assam were excluded from the final version of the NRC that was released by the government on August 31. A total of 3.29 crore people had applied for the NRC, of which 3.11 crore made it to the final list.