NRC issue engulfs court proceeding in Assam

NRC Assam updation process under scrutiny  

After years of allegations over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation process in Assam, the court proceedings begin against the former State coordinator Prateek Hajela (for his involvement in a financial scam to the tune of over Rs 1.55 billion), the system integrator (Wipro limited) and a subcontractor Integrated System and Services (ISS). Hajela, who had already got voluntary retirement from the service under the Assam government, was recently summoned by the Kamrup (Metro) additional district and sessions court to appear on 17 November, but he failed to do so. The district court in Guwahati has now fixed 6 February 2024 for the next hearing and even allowed the petitioner Luit Kumar Barman to bring the matter to the retired IAS officer’s notice through newspaper-advertisements.

Barman, an Assamese entrepreneur turned award-winning film producer, now prepares for the advertisement to be published in two national dailies (one in English and another in Hindi) and two widely circulated newspapers of Hajela’s home State (Madhya Pradesh) and also Assam. Wipro, the Indian IT company of international repute, submitted an affidavit through its representatives. However, 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 tampering with the software, in the process allowing thousands of illegal Bangladeshi nationals to apply for Indian citizenship.

The complainant filed the petition on basis of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on social, economic and general sectors for the year ending on 31 March 2020, where it pointed out irregularities on the NRC Assam updation process (May 2014 to October 2019). The highest audit body also recommended penal action against Hajela and Wipro.

Barman lodged a complaint at Paltan Bazar police station on 19 October 2022 against Hajela, Wipro and ISS for their suspected roles in money laundering. But he was not entertained and then approached the court of the Kamrup (Metro) chief judicial magistrate.

Barman introduced three individuals as witnesses, namely Hitesh Devsarma, IAS (retired), who was the immediate successor of Hajela as NRC State coordinator, Aabhijeet Sarma, president of Assam Public Works (the original petitioner in Supreme Court for updation of 1951 Assam NRC) and himself.

Days back, nationalist body Bharat Raksha Manch (BRM) urged Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to approve all 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). 

Both Devsarma and Sarma had already lodged three FIRs against Hajela alleging financial mismanagements, intentional inclusion of illegal migrant’s names in NRC draft and low pays to over 6000 contractual data entry operators. Needless to mention that the DEOs, some of whom were paid as low as Rs 5,500 (per person), are still deprived of their outstanding dues.

But the concerned police officer-in-charge did not register the case, following which the complainant sent an electronic mail (on 17 March) to the city police commissioner, but that too went in vain. Later when the Kamrup (Metro) CJM court too refused to entertain his appeal for justice over the sensitive issue affecing millions of genuine residents of Assam, Barman went to the Kamrup (Metro) sessions court. Months back, the fifth FIR was lodged against Hajela at Dispur police station highlighting the exploitation of DEOs. The complaint argued that DEOs are yet to get their cumulative outstanding amount (nearly Rs one billion) from the concerned agencies.

Amidst the debate of the NRC scam, the social media users named and shamed three Guwahati-based television scribes as beneficiaries. Those scribes are suspected to be involved in supplying the DEOs to ISS and subsequently benefited themselves through illegal means. The people of Assam still remember how they lavishly praised Hajela as an outstanding officer and pronounced the NRC draft as the final one, even though it was yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India. Every social media user argued that the DEOs must be financially compensated under the laws. Expressing concern over the development, Journalists’ Forum Assam urged the local news channel managements to clarify that no journalist of their organisations was involved with the scam, so that the audience did not perceive the entire media fraternity as corrupt.

Days back, nationalist body Bharat Raksha Manch (BRM) urged Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to approve all 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.

Barman, while talking to this writer, asserted that he pursues no personal enmity towards Hajela, but he has taken it as a cause for the nation. Regarding the next date of hearing, the young engineer turned entrepreneur revealed that he plans to publish the said advertisements as early as possible. He informed that thousands of his friends & social media users extended monetary contributions for the initiative. The total money collected from the crowd will be used for the advertisements, stated Barman, adding that the overwhelming response indicates that it’s a matter of serious national concern.

Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria is an independent Indian journalist based in Kamrup, Assam

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