This has opened a Pandora’s box with an NGO, Assam Public Works (APW), on whose petition the Supreme Court had ordered updating the citizens’ list in 2009, levelling fresh allegations against former NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela and a few other individuals.
In June last year, Hajela’s successor, Hitesh Dev Sarma, had filed an FIR with Assam government’s Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Branch alleging graft and money laundering during the former’s tenure. But no action has been taken on the complaint so far.
The NRC was first prepared for Assam in 1951 based on the Census of that year under the directive of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The objective was to weed out illegal immigrants who had entered Assam from erstwhile East Bengal (now Bangladesh). During a review of the implementation of the Assam Accord in May 2005, the then Congress government in the state had agreed for updating the 1951 NRC. The historic Accord signed in 1985 marked the culmination of the six-year Assam Agitation that demanded detection and deportation of illegal immigrants irrespective of their religious affiliations.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court had also ordered updating the NRC on a petition filed by APW. Subsequently, Registrar General of India (RGI) issued a notification on December 5, 2013 to begin the mammoth task of updating the citizens’ register.
Civil society organisations and indigenous groups welcomed the decision as the NRC was perceived to be critical to identifying millions of illegal settlers in Assam. But what was supposed to be a safeguard for greater Assamese identity and culture against a demographic onslaught of illegal immigration turned out to be a dud.
Needless to say, the ruling BJP had taken the credit after the NRC exercise was completed. And now, it has stopped short of abandoning the matter. The final list released on August 31, 2019, had excluded over 19 lakh applicants out of a total 3.3 crore whose fate will be determined by foreigners tribunals. There is speculation that many of those excluded are genuine citizens, whose claims may be stuck due to improper documentation or some technical errors.
Even the Congress staked claim ahead of the release of the final list. “It is my own baby. The BJP didn’t take much care of my baby. As a result, it has become defective. The baby is defective because you did not provide sufficient food or sufficient nourishment. Instead of growing as a healthy baby, it has become a weak and sick baby,” former CM Tarun Gogoi had said in an interview with The Wire in August 2018.
More than three years since the NRC exercise was completed, but the Registrar General of India (RGI) is yet to notify the list. Amid this delay came the CAG report which is, in fact, a stinging comment on the manner in which then-NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela handled the entire work.
The audit report flagged issues such as – “exorbitant profit of over Rs 155 crore retained by System Integrator (Wipro) on operator’s wage”; “deviation from the contract” that led to “unauthorised expenditure of over Rs 10 crore in connection with the engagement of third-party monitoring consultants and an excess expenditure of Rs 1.78 crore on project management”; “avoidable expenditure to the tune of Rs 7 crore in software development through change request”; “haphazard development of NRC software with risk to confidentiality and integrity of data”, among others.
It is not clear yet what action the government will take against individuals and entities who made a big mess of the NRC exercise. The state where 860 people had sacrificed their lives in the hope of an “infiltration-free Assam” certainly deserves an answer from the ruling dispensation.
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