India: Relentless controversy over NRC Assam

All Bodoland Territorial Council Minority Students’ Union (ABMSU) protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi | Photo: Bismee Taskin | ThePrint
by Nava Thakuria    27 July 2023
As one more first information report (FIR) was lodged against the corruption and money laundering by concerned officials while updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and the petitioner, Gitika Bhattacharya, a Guwahati-based social worker, in her complaint at Dispur police station, demanded legal actions against the government officials along with the private parties as well as some individuals, it added more dimensions to the controversy. The complaint, received on 13 July 2023, also categorically highlighted the matter of exploitation to nearly 8000 contractual workers, who were denied legalised monthly salaries during NRC updation in the northeastern State of India.
It was the fifth FIR, lodged before Assam Police, against the former NRC State coordinator, Prateek Hajela, who was appointed to look after the massive exercise under direct monitoring of the Supreme Court of India engaging 50,000 government employees and a few thousand contractual data entry operators (DEOs). The NRC updation process began in 2014 and culminated with the publication of a final draft in 2019, but that is yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India.
Earlier, alleging corruption by Hajela and also the inclusion of a large number of illegal Bangladeshi migrant’s names in the NRC draft, the senior officer’s immediate successor Hitesh Devsarma filed two complaints before the Assam CID on 19 May 2022, and State Vigilance & anti-corruption on 13 June 22. Devsarma was followed by Abhijeet Sharma (lodging an FIR in Paltan Bazar police station on 14 October 22) and Luit Kumar Barman (filed another complaint in the same police station of Guwahati on 19 Oct 22). But not a single FIR has been registered, even though the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG, the highest audit body of the world’s largest democracy) also recommended penal actions against Hajela.
Demanding a complete verification of the NRC draft and also appropriate actions against all the individuals who were involved in the intentional inclusion of illegal people’s names in it, the Bharat Raksha Manch (Save India Forum, a non-government organisation) emphasized a correct NRC for Assam and punishment against the guilty individuals involved in money laundering to the tune of Rs 2600 million. Submitting a memorandum to Assam Governor at Raj Bhawan, the nationalist forum appealed to him to pursue the NRC issue with the Union government in New Delhi. Governor Gulab Chand Kataria was also urged by the delegation, led by Suryakanta Kelkar and Dwijendra N Barthakur, to initiate an affidavit filed by the State government before the apex court seeking its verification.
Assam’s anti-migrant agitation (1979 to 1985) to identify and deport illegal foreigners culminated with an accord with the federal government (in the presence of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi), where influx up to 24 March 1971 was unfortunately resolved to get regularized. But the illegal immigration from present-day Bangladesh continued, and currently, the indigenous people of Assam are on the verge of being a minority in their homeland. Patriotic People’s Front Assam, a forum of nationalist citizens, also demanded that the concerned authorities should award the DEOs the outstanding amount of money. The NRC authority spent a sum of Rs 1600 crore in the four-year-long exercise where the system integrator (Wipro Limited) had the responsibility to supply DEOs. Still, it engaged one sub-contractor (Integrated System and Services), which paid a DEO of Rs 5,500 to 9,100 per month (shockingly, it’s below the country’s basic minimum wages).
Months back, social media users of Assam named and shamed three city-based television editor-journalists as the beneficiaries of the NRC scam. But they did not respond to the pouring allegations and almost hibernated. These scribes shamelessly praised Hajela as an extraordinary officer and pronounced the draft best for the Assamese people. The latest FIR mentioned other persons (besides Hajela) who might be involved in the scam. Nonetheless, the DEOs must be offered their dues according to the laws irrespective of the fate of NRC for Assam (whether it is accepted, reverified, or rejected). Their cumulative rights will be over Rs 1000 million, which is still in somebody’s pockets.