As predicted, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) detected massive financial anomalies involving Indian Rupees hundreds of crores in the process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation. The national audit body also recommended action against the former State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela and the system integrator (Ms Wipro Limited).
The CAG report, submitted to the state legislative assembly, stated that due to a lack of proper planning, hundreds of software utilities were added haphazardly to the core one. Asserting that highly secure and reliable software was necessary for the exercise, it added, no due process like the selection of vendors following a national tender was followed.
The intended objective of preparing a valid and error-free NRC was not met despite the direct expenditure of Rs 1,579 crore as well as the manpower cost of deployment of around 50,000 government employees for over four years.
The NRC project was done under the supervision and guidance of the Supreme Court of India, where the Assam government was asked only to provide logistic support.
The CAG report recommended penal measures against the then State NRC coordinator and the system integrator for violating the country’s wage laws while paying monthly salaries to nearly 6000 part-time data entry operators (DEO). The wage difference allowed an undue benefit of Rs 155 crore to the system integrator and also the labour contractor. Wipro was also supposed to supply DEOs, but its officials in Assam allegedly engaged subcontractors, where some Guwahati-based television journalists were also seemingly involved.
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Wipro was sanctioned Rs 14,500 (to 17,500) per DEO per month by the NRC authority, but the subcontractors paid only Rs 5,500 (to 9,100) to each DEO every month. Shockingly, those DEOs were even denied minimum amounts as guaranteed by India’s Minimum Wage Act. Some DEOs even approached the state labour commissioner, and many came to the street demanding their dues. But they are still deprived of their full payments (which should be over Rs 150 crore in total).
The NRC updation process was started in December 2014 with an initial project cost of Rs 288 crore and was supposed to be completed within 14 months (by February 2015). But the timeline for the project went on lingering, and the final draft was published in August 2019 only.
Because of the time overrun, the project cost escalated up to Rs 1,579 crore. Though claimed by Hajela as the draft NRC was a final one, it is yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India.
The final draft of the citizens’ list excluded 19 lakh people as they could not provide valid documents supporting their permanent stay in Assam before 25 March 1971. It should be noted that unlike other parts of India, Assam has a different cut-off date for claiming citizenship following the historic Assam Accord signed in 1985 after a six-year long agitation, but that has been lately challenged in the SC.
Mentionable is former NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma, before his retirement, who filed a first information report with the state government’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing. He alleged massive corruption in the exercise (during Hajela’s tenure, who was later transferred to his home state of Madhya Pradesh). Hajela is also facing several FIRs from different organisations, including Assam Public Work, demanding a thorough probe against him as the state NRC coordinator.
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Dev Sarma also publicly stated that the draft NRC has included millions of illegal Bangladeshi citizens (while excluding thousands of indigenous families). He argued that faulty software was used in the process to make it possible and it should be identified as a serious offence which would impact national security. If the NRC draft is accepted as the final one, it would create more trouble for the indigenous population of Assam.
Along with Dev Sarma, millions of genuine residents of the State would expect a concrete initiative from the governments in both Dispur and New Delhi, so that a correct NRC can be obtained.
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