This IAS officer pulled off the 6-year-long NRC process
On Saturday, the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam was published at 10 am, bringing the six-year-long process to a close. Even as the NRC was shrouded in accusations of non-verification, state coordinator Prateek Hajela, an IAS officer, remained tight-lipped about the process, upon the Supreme Court's directive. Here's more on Hajela and how he pulled off this mammoth task.
The first NRC was prepared in 1951 to enumerate citizens. This is the first time it has been updated since and the updation is only for the people of Assam. Operating out of his Guwahati office, Hajela's team sifted through 66.4 million documents for 33 million applicants, in a Rs. 1,200-crore process, involving 55,000 officials. 19,06,657 people were left out of the final list.
To recall, in September 2013, the then Congress government had appointed Hajela the Commissioner and Secretary of the Home and Political Department of Assam. He was also named the State Coordinator for NRC for the Registrar General of India (RGI), Sailesh. Back then, Hajela, a 1995-batch IAS officer, was serving as the managing director of the National Rural Health Mission.
Following his appointment, Hajela prepared an outline for the NRC process in six months and hired a core team of 10-12 by August 2014, sources told The Indian Express. Thereafter, the team started operations from a multi-storeyed building in Bhangagarh, Guwahati, in July 2015. Reportedly, Hajela helped design over 53 software applications that would serve as the backbone of the verification process.
Among these pivotal verification devices was one designed for family tree verification, which checked if anyone has wrongly used the documents of another family. Reportedly, Hajela drew from his technological expertise as he has a degree in B.Tech Electronics from IIT Delhi.
Meanwhile, last year, the Supreme Court (a bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justice RF Nariman) had rebuked the RGI and Hajela on August 7 for speaking to the press, threatening imprisonment. The court underlined the importance of an "error-free" NRC list. Ever since, Hajela has communicated with the apex court itself through sealed reports, shutting out even the state government.
Interestingly, on June 30, Hajela wrote on Facebook, "In any endeavor, where intentions are pure, so are ways and means." He added, "Every obstruction is an opportunity to reflect, accept, identify one's weakness and remove it- an opportunity to identify one's strength and use or display it to overcome the obstruction, or an opportunity to think beyond the ordinary and get over the obstruction."
Further, it is worth mentioning that throughout his six-year journey, Hajela has faced harsh criticism from political parties, especially since the SC order that further buried any revelations about the process. Recently, a Guwahati-based civil society group, 'Sachetan Nagarik Mancha', had accused wrongful exclusions in NRC. Hajela responded by saying the allegations highlighted Mancha's "complete ignorance of even the basics of NRC verification system."
Ironically, when the first NRC draft was published on December 31, 2017, Hajela and his daughter's names were not included. At the time, the duo had appeared for a hearing in Guwahati in May 2018. Their names were included in the final draft.