An EastMojo investigation reveals how database of a freedom fighter’s family from Nalbari was misused for inclusion of names in final National Register of Citizens
Nalbari: With the countdown beginning for publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which is likely to be published on August 31 as per a Supreme Court directive, a startling instance of misuse of ‘legacy data’ has come to the fore, casting aspersions on the ongoing exercise.
Documents, namely 1951 NRC (National Register of Citizens) and electoral rolls up to midnight of March 24, 1971, are collectively called as 'legacy data’. It is the database of that period which would carry the names of a number of persons together, admissible to prove the claim for inclusion in NRC being updated for the state of Assam.
As part of an investigation on the claims of a freedom fighter’s family in Nalbari district that as many as 28 people belonging to different families had ‘stolen’ their legacy data for inclusion of names in the final NRC, an EastMojo team located some of the accused who came on record to confess that they had indeed committed the ‘mistake’.
In a recent submission in Supreme Court, NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela's report on the re-verification exercise carried out so far noted that 27% of entries were already covered, higher than the 20% demanded by the Central and Assam government. But new cases of 'misuse' of NRC legacy data suggest that the job might not have been done as immaculately as projected.
Kutubuddin Ahmed (85), son of a freedom fighter, was totally confused for over two years after he was forced to run from pillar to post to prove his nationality. During the period, he, along with other members of his family, had had to attend NRC hearings for five times, but in vain. He even took part in a hunger strike in Nalbari town recently to press for his “genuine” demand of including him and other members of his family in the final list of the NRC. But it was alleged that no one was there to pay attention to the family members of the late freedom fighter, Mohabbat Ali.
“My father, Mohabbat Ali, was a freedom fighter. Following his death in 1972, his wife, Mehrunissa, was availing of freedom fighter pension. However, during the devastating flood in 1988, we lost all documents relating to the government recognition to my father of being a freedom fighter. But now at the age of 85 years, despite having all related documents, I have been forced to pass sleepless nights to prove my nationality. This has become the most disgusting part of my entire life,” regretted Kutubuddin Ahmed, who possesses official documents like Aadhaar Card, Voter ID card, PAN card etc. Apart from all these, he claims to be have cast his votes till the last Parliamentary elections.
The man who is now fighting for identity on behalf of the entire family is Kutubuddin Ahmed’s son, Md Nurul Islam. Expressing serious concern over the issue, Islam said that his grandfather has lots of contribution for the overall growth of Nalbari area. “My grandfather contributed immensely for the growth of Nalbari area. He donated in various social organisations, including land for construction of ASTC bus terminus, Mukunda Kakaty Civil Hospital, residence of chief judicial magistrate, court building etc. But now, we have been forced to appear in NRC hearings to prove our nationality. Despite having all related records since 1933, we have not got justice so far,” he said.
Elaborating on the problem, he alleged that some 28 unknown people have already used his father’s legacy code (legacy data code no: 18050610720) illegally and submitted it to the NRC office.
Meanwhile, Islam has also filed an FIR against those 28 persons for using his father’s legacy data to include their names in the NRC at the Nalbari police station. Meanwhile, a case (bearing case no 560/19 under Sections 468/471 of the IPC) has been registered in this regard.
“The irony here is that we, the original indigenous people of the state, are struggling to include our names in the NRC for the past two years, but these 28 people, who have stolen our legacy code, have managed to get their names included. Because of this, we are under the NRC scanner,” he alleged, adding: “On August 31, the final NRC list will be published. But, what will we do if this problem is not solved ahead of that. We are absolutely clueless.”
Following this, EastMojo team started its investigation to find out some of the 28 people who allegedly used the legacy code of Kutubuddin Ahmed.
After much persuasion and struggle, the EastMojo team managed to get hold of Mozamil Ali (legacy data code no: 18050610720; ARN No: 101832302136172701998) in Nalbari district. When asked about the confusion over legacy data code, Ali, a daily wage worker, expressed his innocence over the issue.
“We are poverty-hit uneducated people. We applied for our legacy data and when we got our father’s name in it, we thought that it was our legacy. Now, we have come to know about the confusion. We have already attended three hearings, but no official has told us about this so far. We are innocent. Somebody should come forward to help us,” Ali said.
Md Faiz Ali (legacy data code no: 18050610720; ARN No: 101832302136172500670) has clarified to EastMojo that they have unintentionally submitted other’s legacy code to the authorities in NRC. Since the annual flood has devastated these people, according to Ali, they have already lost all their official documents due to the annual menace.
Citing illiteracy, poverty, lack of proper knowledge as some of the causes, he further regretted, “I feel sorry that we have submitted other’s legacy code no to the authorities in the NRC. But it was not intentional at all. I found my father’s name there and thought that that was our legacy code. This should have been rectified much earlier, but nobody was there to find out the mistake. Now, following the complaint lodged by the family members of Md Nurul Islam, we have realised the mistake committed by us.”
He, however, has appealed the authorities concerned to help them to prove their nationality as, according to him, they are also living in the area for ages.
Meanwhile, the conscious sections of the villagers here have expressed serious doubt over the working of the NRC officials in the state.
“This is not the single case of misuse of legacy code. You will get numerous numbers of such cases all over the state. You can’t also blame these people at all. They are uneducated and poverty hit. Flood has ruined their life. They have lost all their belongings, including important official documents over the years due to flood. But what the NRC officials are doing here. Even after appearing more than three hearings, why authorities in NRC have failed to solve the mystery? If their confession is true, how these people managed to get their names included in the draft NRC,” questioned a local school headmaster on condition of anonymity.
Allegations of misuse of legacy data are nothing new in Assam. Apart from many others, large-scale inclusion in the NRC has been doubted by the Assam government itself as a number of districts in the India-Bangladesh border areas, which are seen as highly prone to illegal immigration, have shown higher inclusion rates than the districts which are located far from the border.
Recently, Assam minister Chandra Mohan Patowary in the floor of the state Assembly said, “According to data, 12.15% applicants’ names were excluded from the final draft. In districts close to the Bangladesh border, like South Salmara, 7.22% applicants were excluded from the draft NRC. This figure in Dhubri is 8.26% and in Karimganj 7.67%. But districts where indigenous people live, like Karbi Anglong, the figure is 14.31% and in upper Assam’s Tinsukia, where sons of the soil have been living for ages, this figure is 13.25%.”
Last year, NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela also submitted a series of instances of misuse of legacy data before the Supreme Court and alleged trading of legacy data by unscrupulous elements to include non-citizens in the NRC.
Meanwhile, Upamanyu Hazarika, a lawyer in the Supreme Court of India, also said that the NRC update is all about documentation. “If you fulfil the criteria to be in the list, you make it. Or else you do not make it. It is as simple as that.”
What is legacy data?
Documents, namely 1951 NRC (National Register of Citizens) and electoral rolls up to midnight of March 24, 1971, are collectively called as the legacy data. It is the database of that period which would be carrying the names of a very large number of persons together, admissible to prove the claim for inclusion in NRC updated for the state of Assam.
One has to adduce the proof of residence in Assam of himself/herself or his/her ancestors prior to midnight of March 24, 1971 for inclusion in NRC. As such, the probability of finding one’s name or that of the ancestors would be very high here. This would be the most commonly used document.
What is legacy data code?
Unique identification of each record is essential for the applicant to be able to show appearance of his/her name (or of his ancestor(s). This unique identification is also essential to enable checking by the verifying authorities at the time of verification. Sanctity of each record can only be tested through its relationship with an image in the centralised database. As such, each digitised record, which could be linked correctly with an image has been provided with a legacy data code, something similar to the issuance of a PNR in case of air/rail/road travel.
Legacy data code consists of an 11 digit number in the format xxx-xxxx-xxxx and contains all the information about any person whose name appears in the legacy data. Wherever a match with the name of the ancestor is found, a legacy data slip shall be printed and issued to the applicant. The slip will contain a legacy data code, which shall be required to be quoted by the applicant in the application form whenever submitted. Legacy data code is issued through either: (A) Search at the NRC Seva Kendra (NSK) or, (B) search through website hosted Digitised Legacy Data Development (DLDD) data through the NRC website.