Guwahati: An officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, IAS officer from the 1996 batch, Prateek Hajela, has finally begun his journey back to his home state of Madhya Pradesh. He was transferred to Madhya Pradesh, on deputation for three years, following sudden directives of the Supreme Court of India. Prior to this order of some weeks ago, Hajela has been serving in Assam for the last 23 years. He is recognised as a competent, dynamic and innovative bureaucrat within large sections of people in Assam.
Prateek Hajela, who has also served as the NRC State Coordinator from 2013, has been under severe attack after the publication of the final NRC list on August 31, 2019. The ruling dispensation, that is the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP) has been crudely vocal against him. Their grouse is predicatble, based on their narrow and sectarian understanding of the Indian polity: not enough of a count of Muslims were excluded from the NRC! Their further contention is, that by adherence in some measure to procedure and the checks and balances within, the number of ‘foreigners’ was too low! On the other hand, other communities, including some undefined Original Inhabitants (OI) were dropped from the final NRC in large numbers, though it had been (politically) decided that OI’s are not required to supply any documents! Though the NRC exercise was completely as a Supreme Court monitored process and Prateek Hajela was also working as a court monitored officer at the State NRC office, he was repeated attacked and threatened by many of the BJP’s local leaders and it’s associate organisations. This includes even the BJP state president, Ranjit Das and some of the MLAs among ruling BJP in Assam. Under the circumstances, Prateek Hajela actually perceived a risk to his life, a fact that was communicated to the matter to Supreme Court. Taking his plea and willingness to leave, the Supreme Court on October 18, 2019, directed the Centre and the State Governments, to relieve him from a position that he has held since 2013. The Supreme Court directed an inter-cadre transfer of Prateek Hajela for the maximum possible period. The order has taken some time in implementation and, after 26 days, Prateek Hajela has been formally relieved from his duty as NRC State Coordinator, as well as all other responsibilities that he was carrying out in in Assam.
In the initial days after the SC directions, neither the central government nor the Government of Assam were willing to relieve Prateek Hajela from his present responsibility. But, on November 9, the Personnel Dept, Govt of Assam issued a notice putting the SC Order into effect. Prateek Hajela was thereby relieved from his present responsibility of State Coordinator, NRC and, in his place, Hitesh Dev Sharma, a 1989 batch ACS officer was appointed in his place.
Though, Hitesh Dev Sharma could not take charge of NRC State Coordinator due to certain complications, Prateek Hajela started his journey to Madhya Pradesh, soon after this order, on November 11. This date for handing over charge was specifically mentioned in the notice issued by the state government on November 9. Sharma was therefore expected to take charge from Hajela that day. But, Hitesh Dev Sharma has failed to take charge of State Coordinator, NRC as some unfortunate public speculation and debate has arisen over certain allegedly biased and partisan views held by Sharma. Even so, Prateek Hajela has moved away, to Madhya Pradesh, leaving Guwahati by an Indigo flight on November 12, 2019. So far, Sharma has not taken over.
As the news spread, of Prateek Hajela’s departure, large number of officials and employees, started gathering at his residence at Geetanagar, Guwahati from the early morning of November 12, 2019. Many of these were well-wishers. Many others gathered at the Gopinath Bordoloi international Airport, Guwahati. Emotions ran high with many persons from Assam, including some officials, weeping in sorrow at not just Hajela’s departure but the circumstances under which he was compelled to leave the state. Prateek Hajela too became extremely emotional at the time of his leaving the capital of Assam.
Talking to the media he said, ‘I have served Assam since July, 1996. I am going to Madhya Pradesh as per the directives set by Supreme Court. I am not leaving Assam forever. I am going there for a deputation of three years. After that, I certainly will return to my own cadre.” Speaking on his strong emotional attachment to Assam, Prateek Hajela said, ‘Though I have born in Madhya Pradesh, Assam is my own State. My daughter has born in Assam. My daughter and I have learned a lot here in Assam. We speak Assamese among ourselves, at home.’
Taking a jibe at his critics on the NRC process, Prateek Hajela said, ‘I have done my work with highest dedication. I am confident on the overall quality maintained in the entire process. I have received overwhelming support from the general public in the state. Future generations of the Assamese people will assess this contribution and, hopefully remember me kindly for this service towards completion of the NRC.’