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CAG Detected Huge Anomalies, Corruption: What Really Happened in Assam NRC Process?

The CAG reported that with a lack of proper planning, the software and utilities were haphazardly developed for the NRC data capture and correction process and it posed the risk of data tampering.
After Crushing Ordeals

File Photo.

Delhi: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) recently detected huge financial anomalies amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees in the updation procedure of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. The national audit body also recommended that action be taken against the former Assam NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela and system integrator Ms Wipro Limited.

Without proper planning, the haphazard development of software and utilities for the NRC data capture and correction posed the risk of data tampering and it did not leave any audit trail either. Additionally, due processes, such as the selection of vendors following a national tender, were not followed. 

Thus, the objective of preparing a valid and error-free NRC was not met, said the CAG report, which was submitted to the state legislative assembly. And this happened despite the direct expenditure of Rs 1,579 crore as well as the manpower cost of deploying around 50,000 government employees for over four years, the EastMojo reported.

The NRC exercise was done under the supervision of the Supreme Court and the Assam government was only asked to provide logistic support, the news report said. The NRC exercise was started after bureaucrat Prateek Hajela was appointed the State Coordinator in October 2013.

The CAG report recommended penal measures against Hajela and the system integrator for violating Indian wage laws while paying monthly salaries to nearly 6000 part-time data entry operators (DEO), the EastMojo report said. The wage difference reportedly created a benefit of Rs 155 crore to both the system integrator and the labour contractor.

Further, Wipro was supposed to supply the DEOs, but its officials in Assam allegedly hired subcontractors, wherein some Guwahati-based television journalists were also seemingly involved, according to the news report.

The NRC authority sanctioned Wipro a monthly salary ranging from Rs 14,500 to 17,500 per DEO. However, the subcontractors paid only Rs 5,500 - Rs 9,100 per month to each DEO. This means, the DEOs were even denied the minimum payment guaranteed by the Minimum Wage Act. Some DEOs also approached the state labour commissioner, and several of them took to the streets to demand their dues. However, they have still not been paid, the EastMojo reported.

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, which was February 2015.

As the project kept getting delayed and extended, and the final draft was finally published in August 2019, more than four years after it was supposed to be completed. Due to the delay, the project cost skyrocketed to Rs 1,579 crore. The draft NRC is yet to be approved by the Registrar General of India.

The final draft of the citizens’ list excluded as many as 19 lakh out of the 3.3 crore applicants for not being able to provide valid documents supporting their residence in Assam before March 25, 1971. Assam has a different cut-off date for claiming citizenship than rest of India because of the 1985 Assam Accord.

Notably, former NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma has alleged massive corruption in the NRC exercise during Hajela’s tenure. He even filed a first information report (FIR) with the state government’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing.

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