Review Nepal News

Demanding NRC updation across Bharat
  Kathmandu      September 17 2023

Nava Thakuria

Even though the outcome and experience of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation process in Assam turned sour, a national forum insists on updating the NRC with the base year of 1951 across Bharat. The forum, Bharat Raksha Manch (Save India Forum), has made it a mission to increase awareness among common people about the nationwide NRC for a better future for the nation. Recently, it announced a protest demonstration to be organised on 2 October in various parts of the country to raise its demand for a correct NRC to Assam.

Needless to mention that the NRC updation process (May 2014 to October 2019) in Assam ended with a number of controversies involving the unabated money laundering (to the tune of Rs 260 crore), inclusion of illegal foreigners' names in the draft and also deprivation of basic minimum wages to nearly 7000 temporary workers, who were associated with the process as contractual data entry operators (DEOs). As understood, the entire process was monitored by the Supreme Court of India, but DEOs remain clueless why they are still deprived of their due monthly salaries till date.

By now, the fifth first information report (FIR) was lodged against the former State NRC coordinator, Prateek Hajela, who was appointed to look after the massive exercise involving 50,000 government employees and the DEOs. Petitioner Gitika Bhattacharya in her complaint cited a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), where the highest national audit body recommended penal actions against Hajela, who was recently accorded with the VRS from Assam government, and also the system integrator (Wipro limited). She also highlighted the matter of exploitation to the DEOs in the police complaint.

Earlier, alleging a massive corruption by Hajela and also inclusion of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi migrant's names in the NRC draft, his immediate successor Hitesh Devsarma filed two complaints before the Assam CID and State vigilance & anti-corruption department during his tenure as the State NRC coordinator. Devsarma was followed by Aabhijeet Sharma (Assam Public Works president, who is the key petitioner on Assam NRC in the apex court) and Luit Kumar Barman (a businessman turned filmmaker turned a vivid social media user) to lodge two separate complaints over the NRC malpractices.

The NRC updation process for Assam began in 2014 and culminated with the publication of a final draft in 2019, which is yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India. Even though it was an opportunity to detect illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Assam, the exercise failed miserably. More shockingly, the NRC updation authority had to face the allegation of entertaining illegal migrants through the intentional software manipulation, where Hajela took the lead. However, the same bureaucrat was recently granted an early retirement by the State government.

Months back, a forum of nationalist citizens also demanded that the DEOs should be awarded the outstanding amount of money by the concerned authorities. Patriotic People's Front Assam claimed that the authority spent a sum of Rs 1600 crore in the exercise where the system integrator had the responsibility to supply DEOs, but it engaged one sub-contractor (Integrated System and Services), which paid a DEO only Rs 5,500 to 9,100 (per month per person). Some of the DEOs approached the State labour commissioner and many came to the street demanding their dues, but nothing happened in their favour.

There are speculations that at least three Assamese news channel editors were also involved with the NRC updation scam. It is learnt that a large sum of money, meant for the DEOs, were fraudulently grabbed by a powerful group comprising the television anchor-journalists. During the process of NRC updation, they tried to project Hajela as an extraordinary bureaucrat (read a superhero). Moreover any report against the process was discouraged by them terming it as a fit case for defamation because the process was monitored by none other than the SC.

BRM, which submitted a memorandum to Assam Governor Gulab Chand Kataria urging him to pursue the NRC issues with the Centre, repeated again to insist on its demand for a correct NRC and punishments to Hajela. State president Dwijendra N Barthakur claimed that Hajela was personally engaged with the scam involving Rs 260 crores in the NRC updation. He strongly argued that the DEOs must be cleared the outstanding dues, and they must not be deprived because of the fate of NRC, whether it's accepted, modified or rejected by the government.