Understanding the public movements in Assam are solely dependent on the mainstream media, should the journalists play with the tricks to
highlight an issue according to their convenience? If some Guwahati-based television journalists are alleged to be involved in a
massive financial scam, shouldn’t the media report about it with public concern? Do the local newspapers and news channels have taken
in granted that no adequate coverage on a scam, even after it’s identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, will be
allowed so that the common people in general remain in the dark?
When the mainstream media outlets intentionally killed the news related to National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation scam in Assam,
the social media users have taken the lead. Without any visible protest-demonstrations, the issue of corruption by those television
personalities has gone to the public domain. The alternate media users (including a few senior print journalists) made it loud and clear that
those corrupt media persons must be punished under the law, as they have cheated the people of Assam in a mission to have a correct NRC
(under monitoring of the Supreme Court of India).
The controversy began with two first information reports (FIR), filed by a former State NRC coordinator against his predecessor alleging
corruption and money laundering while updating the 1951 NRC in Assam. The then top NRC official Hitesh Devsarma lodged the FIRs (one with
the criminal investigation department of Assam Police and other with the CM’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing) against Prateek Hajela
(who was appointed as the State NRC coordinator in 2013 following an order of the Supreme Court).
Devsarma asserted that a huge financial mismanagement had taken place during Hajela’s tenure as the NRC head. He also claimed that the NRC
draft (which was released on 31 August 2019) included thousands of illegal migrants’ names with the help of faulty software. He demanded
that the intention must be probed as a serious crime under anti-national activities. Not only from Devsarma, Hajela is also
facing a number of FIRs from different organizations including Assam Public Works (APW), the key petitioner in the Supreme Court on Assam
APW president Aabhijeet Sarma later lodged a police complaint against Wipro limited (functioned as the system integrator in the process)
citing the corruption. Wipro was given the task of supplying temporary data entry operators (DEOs) for the NRC updation process. Even though
Wipro was not permitted to subcontract any activities related to system design & development, deployment and enhancement of NRC
software solution, data centre operation, etc, it engaged a sub-contractor without the authority’s prior approval.
A well-known Assamese entrepreneur also sued Hajela along with Wipro and Integrated System & Services (worked as the subcontractor and
represented by proprietor Utpal Hazarika) for their roles in Rs 155 crores money laundering during the updation process. Luit Kumar
Barman, the acclaimed film producer and a visible social media user, personally lodged an FIR at Paltan Bazar police station in the city.
As his complaint was not entertained by the police station, Barman approached the Kamrup (metropolitan) chief judicial magistrate’s court
with a plea to direct the police to register his complaint.
But the CJM court dismissed the case citing the reason that it lacks the jurisdiction to investigate the allegations. In its order on 18
May last, it stated that the court had ‘no jurisdiction to investigate the matter’, ‘no jurisdiction to direct production of the accused’ and
‘no jurisdiction to punish the accused as per law’. The complainant introduced himself as a vigilant Indian citizen against
misappropriation of public funds and the court terms the allegation in the nature of public interest litigation which the specific court ‘has
no jurisdiction to try’. Hence the prayers of the complainant were rejected, but the court granted Barman the ‘liberty to approach the
appropriate forum with jurisdiction to redress’ his grievance.
But the matter was reported by a section of local media outlets as if the court had closed the road for justice. However the complainant has
decided to approach a different court. He believes that the CAG report for the year ending on 31 March 2020, where it recommended penal
actions against Hajela and Wipro should be honoured. Barman pointed out that Hajela did not follow a due process of transparent tendering
to offer the task of supplying DEOs to Wipro. Those DEOs were paid only Rs 5,500 to 9,100 per month (per person) during 2015-2019,
whereas the NRC authority was sanctioned Rs 14,500 to 17,500 every month for one DEO.
The CAG report also stated that due to lack of proper planning during the NRC updation process, 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 no due process
was followed. While developing the important software, a haphazard addition of over 200 software utilities to the primary one was done.
The CAG finally stated that the intended objective of preparing an error-free NRC was not fulfilled, even though the government had to
spend Rs 1,579 crore (and engaged around 50,000 Assam government servants in the process).
The low salary to 6000 DEOs (who are yet to get their due amount under the provision of salaries as per the country’s minimum wages act) was
lately discussed in digital media outlets highlighting the State government’s daily minimum wages for skilled, semi-skilled and
unskilled workers in various sectors. It is stated that even an unskilled worker can legally claim Rs 240 per day (read Rs 7,200 per
month), where the skilled one should get minimum Rs 350 per day (Rs 10,500 per month) in Assam. Responsible individuals, while commenting
on it, claimed that at least three television scribes were also being beneficiaries of money laundering in the NRC updation process. Even
though named and shamed on social media, they remained silent over the
Though claimed by Hajela (which was shamelessly propagated by some journalists) the released NRC draft as the final one, it has not been
notified by the Registrar General of India till now. Various local organisations and prominent individuals have expressed serious concern
over the fate of NRC in Assam and they expect a high-level probe into the NRC irregularities so that the culprits can be booked under the
law. A large number of youths have sacrificed their lives for a secured future to the indigenous population of Assam. The local media
must play its honest role so that Assam (later India as a whole) gets a genuine NRC.