Guwahati: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has detected massive financial anomalies involving Indian Rupees hundreds of crores in the process of National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation in Assam. The national audit body also recommended action against the former State NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela and the system integrator (Ms Wipro Limited).
The latest CAG report ending on 31 March 2020, which was submitted in Assam State legislative assembly on Saturday, stated that due to lack of proper planning hundreds of software utilities were added in a haphazard manner to the core one. Asserting that highly secure and reliable software was necessary for the exercise, but it added, no due process like selection of vendors following a national tender was followed.
Pointing out that the intended objective of preparing a valid and error-free NRC was not met despite 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 entire 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 minimum wages act while paying monthly salaries to nearly 6000 part time data entry operators. The difference of wages allowed undue benefit of Rs 155 crore to the system integrator and also the labour contractor.
The NRC updation 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 RGI.
The final draft of citizens’ list excluded 19 lakh people as they could not provide valid documents supporting their permanent stay in Assam prior to 25 March 1971 (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.
Mentionable is that former NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma, before his retirement, filed a first information report with the State government’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing alleging a massive corruption in the exercise (during Hajela’s tenure, who was later transferred to his home State of Madhya Pradesh). Hajela is also facing a number of FIRs from different organisations demanding a thorough probe against him as the State NRC coordinator.