Former NRC State Coordinator of Assam urges PM Modi for re-verification of NRC

In the middle of charges of corruption, malpractice, and delays with regards to the NRC process, former state coordinator of the NRC, Assam civil servant Hitesh Dev Sarma, who is said to be close to the BJP, wrote a letter to PM Modi highlighting various irregularities he discovered in the NRC procedure.
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On June 18, 2024 former Assam State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Hitesh Dev Sarma wrote a letter urging Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a personal intervention of the updated but not yet notified NRC, which was released on August 31, 2019.

In his letter Sarma also urged the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to inquire into the financial irregularities of NRC updating process and probable money laundering. Sarma has requested, “The National Investigation Agency (NIA) to probe if any foreign money was involved in the process to pave the way for inclusion of foreign nationals’ name in the NRC Assam.”

Sarma has also stated that an affidavit has been filed with the Supreme Court for the reverification process. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has meanwhile stated that the final phase of the NRC is the task of the central government as of now, as the state government has completed its work in this phase.

On August 31, 2019 the final NRC was published with a total of 19,06,657 applicants left out from the NRC, with 3,11,21,004 inclusions.

Sarma, an officer in the Assam civil services, was appointed as the state coordinator of the NRC in 2019 after the previous coordinator, Prateek Hajela got a transfer to his home state, Madhya Pradesh. Sarma details that in 2013 he was debarred from the NRC office due to internal reasons. But on November 11, 2019 he was appointed as NRC state Coordinator after the deputation of Prateek Hajela. The current NRC coordinator is IAS officer, Partha Pratim Mazumdar.

Internal bureaucratic conflicts

The ruling central government led by BJP has notably been at loggerheads with Prateek Hajela after the publication of the final NRC. In the months running up to August 31 2019, Prateek Hajela had been rendered virtually dysfunctional in his post as NRC State Coordinator with the Government of Assam adopting a policy of non-cooperation with him. After the transfer of Prateek Hajela by the Supreme Court, the Government of Assam took a prompt decision to reinstate Hitesh Dev Sharma in a more senior position than before. Hitesh Dev Sharma is also known to be very close to the ruling party, BJP.

May 19, 2022 in a shocking turn of events in the already complicated journey of the NRC, Hitesh Deb Sarma had filed an FIR against Former NRC Coordinator Pratik Hajela. He alleged that the process of Family Tree Verification was conducted in a flawed manner under Hajela, with several “imposters” allegedly using “fraudulent” documents to establish linkage to genuine citizens. He also accused Hajela of deliberately using a software that prevented proper quality checks and permitted names of “foreigners” to be included in the NRC. In his letter to the PM, he has also stated that he discovered during sample checks that over 50,000 names of Indian citizens were missing.

Sarma and Hajela have not seen eye to eye. As per The Print, in a Facebook post in 2023, Sarma had alleged the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) leader Samujjal Bhattacharya would take 16 lakh rupees per month from Hajela. Both Hajela and the AASU had decried these statements. As late as February 2024, the AASU’s Samujjal Bhattacharya has filed a defamation case against Sarma.

In 2022, four Left parties in Assam had demanded the removal of Hitesh Dev Sarma as the National register of Citizens (NRC) coordinator, as they relayed shock and anger over his First Information Report (FIR) against his predecessor Prateek Hajela. They further blamed him for stalling the NRC process. The parties who stated this were the Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPIM), Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) and the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI).

NRC process continues at snail’s pace 

Meanwhile, data shows that a number of cases remain pending. As per an affidavit submitted by the Union Government to the Supreme Court on December 11, 2023, it has been stated that till October 31, 2023, a total of 3,34,966 cases had been disposed of by the 100 Foreigners’ Tribunals operational in Assam. In addition to this, the affidavit stated that a total of 97,714 cases remained pending in the FTs. Furthermore, it was also stated that till December 2023, 1,8,461 cases arising out of FTs had been pending before the Gauhati High Court.

The Foreigners’ Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies in Assam to decide the status of an individual as Indian or foreigner. Its members can be a retired judicial officer of the Assam Judicial Service, a retired civil servant or an advocate with a minimum of seven years of experience.

The NRC has been done under the supervision of the Supreme Court by employing more than 55,000 government employees after multiple hearings, re-verification and examination.

What of the people of Assam?

An important point above all is that while NRC was published at the expense of public funds from taxpayers, the people of Assam have been stuck in the citizenship crisis. Despite doing all the required procedures, the names of about 42 lakhs people were excluded from the first draft list. Ever after that the people of Assam have given their complete cooperation without any agitation or expression of frustration demanding for a permanent solution.

In the name of claim and objection, religious minorities and linguistic minorities, especially Bengali-speaking Muslims and Bengali speaking Hindus have been continuously harassed, facing severe socio-economic hurdles and psychological despair.

A number of people have even been driver to suicide, thinking that their name off the NRC means that their life is finished. Citizens for Justice and Peace has observed that over 29 people have died in detention camps in the state. Meanwhile, more than a hundred people have lost their lives while struggling to prove their citizenship, as they hang between the label of de-voters, FT cases, detention camps, NRC etc.

However, the names of more than 19 lakhs people have been excluded from the final NRC. Many have pointed out loopholes in the list. Shockingly, in several cases the names of the parents are included though children were excluded. Similarly some members of the family were included, while other members of the same family were excluded for no known reason.

Furthermore, observers point out that the rejection slip to the 3 crores left out of the NRC is supposed to be given within 120 days. Yet it has now been almost 5 years, and no rejection slip is given nor is the reason for the exclusion of these individuals given.

Over 27 lakhs people in Assam have been deprived of their Aadhaar card due to the NRC process, where they provided their biometric details during the re-verification process. The issue is another one that the people of the state have been grappling with and is a huge issue for the marginalised, who face the brunt of the NRC process. In the run up to the general assembly elections of 2024, civil society groups of Assam demanded for the Aadhaar card of these 27 lakhs to be issued at the earliest.

Therefore, as the people of Assam grapple with these issues, it is yet to be seen whether the plea by Hitesh Dev Sarma, who is said to be close to the BJP, will be heard.



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