NRC Assam Update
After years of allegations over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) update exercise in Assam, the court proceedings begins against the former State coordinator Prateek Hajela, the system integrator (Wipro limited) and a subcontractor Integrated System and Services (ISS). The basis is Hajela’s involvement with a financial scam to the tune of over 155 crores.
Hajela, who had already got voluntary retirement from the service under Assam government, was recently summoned by the Kamrup (metro) district & sessions court to appear on 17 November, but he failed to do so. The district court in Guwahati then fixed 6 February 2024 for the next hearing and it even allowed the petitioner Luit Kumar Barman to bring the matter to the retired IAS officer’s notice (as he is a resident of Madhya Pradesh) through newspaper-advertisements.
Barman, an Assamese entrepreneur turned award-winning film producer, prepared for the advertisement to be published in two national dailies (one in English and another Hindi) and two widely circulated newspapers of Assam and MP. However, Hajela responded to the concerned court through his counsel on 21 November with an appeal to cancel the permission for newspaper advertisements. The counsel informed that Hajela had already come to know about the summons from various social media posts. He also appealed to the court to allow Hajela to file an affidavit. So Barman now waits for a new direction from the court.
Wipro limited, the Indian IT company of international repute, had already submitted an affidavit through its representatives. But the ISS (represented by proprietor Utpal Hazarika) was not served the summon duly and the court directed the petitioner Barman to take necessary steps. Both Wipro and ISS face serious allegations of tempering software in the process to allow thousands of illegal Bangladeshi nationals to apply for Indian citizenship.
Barman lodged a complaint at a city police station on 19 October against Hajela, Wipro limited and the ISS for their suspected roles in money laundering as indicated by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report on social, economic and general sectors for the year ending on 31 March 2020. Even though the CAG pointed out irregularities in the NRC updating process in Assam (from May 2014 to October 2019) and recommended penal actions against Hajela and Wipro limited, the FIR was not registered.
The complainant then sent an electronic mail (on 17 March 2023) to the city police commissioner, but that too went in vain. Later Barman approached the court of Kamrup (metro) chief judicial magistrate and the CJM too refused to entertain his appeal for justice over the sensitive issue associating millions of genuine residents of Assam. Then Barman approached the district sessions court. He introduced two important witnesses namely Hitesh Devsarma (a retired IAS officer) and Aabhijeet Sarma (president of Assam Public Works, which is the original petitioner in the Supreme Court of India for updation of 1951 NRC in Assam).
Three FIRs Lodged
Both Devsarma (who was the immediate successor of Hajela as NRC State coordinator) and Sarma had already lodged three FIRs against Hajela alleging financial mismanagement, intentional inclusion of illegal migrant’s names in NRC draft and lowly paying of over 6000 contractual data entry operators (DEOs). Needless to mention that the DEOs, some of whom were paid as low as Rs 5,500 (per month per person), are still deprived of their dues. Their cumulative dues will be around Rs 100 crores, which was syphoned by the concerned agencies out of the total expenditure (Rs 1600 crores) sanctioned by the NRC authority.2
Amidst the debate of NRC scam, social media users named and shamed three Guwahati-based television journalists as beneficiaries of it. Those scribes are understood to be involved in supplying DEOs to the ISS and subsequently benefited themselves by illegal means. People of Assam still remember how some television anchors lavishly praised Hajela as an outstanding officer and whimsically pronounced the NRC draft as the final one, even though it’s yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India. However, social media users were unanimous in their views that DEOs must be financially compensated under the law. Expressing concern over the development, Journalists’ Forum Assam urged the local news channel managements to clarify that no journalist of their organisation was involved with the scam, failing that, the audience may perceive the entire media as a corrupt fraternity.
Days back, nationalist body Bharat Raksha Manch (BRM) urged Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to approve all five FIRs against Hajela to be registered against the NRC scam-stars. It also appealed to the State government to file an affidavit before the Supreme Court seeking for a complete re-verification of the NRC draft with the base year of 1951 (instead of 1971). The State unit of BRM under the leadership of Dwijendra N Barthakur even organised a protest demonstration in the city on 2 October demanding due legal actions against Hajela and other individuals, who are involved with the NRC updation scam.
While talking to this writer, Barman asserted that he pursues no personal enmity towards Hajela, but he has taken it as a cause for the nation. He informed that thousands of his friends & social media users extended monetary contributions for the initiative. The total money collected from the crowd funding was planned to be used for the advertisements, but now Barman decides to return the money to every contributor. The engineer turned entrepreneur remains excited to reveal that overwhelming responses from the common people indicate the matter as of serious concern without any doubt.