National Register of Citizens (NRC)
National Register of Citizens (NRC)

Guwahati: Prateek Hajela, the officer tasked with supervising the gigantic NRC updation exercise in Assam, must be a relaxed man after the final National Register of Citizens was published on Saturday.

The 1995 batch IAS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, appointed the NRC coordinator by the Supreme Court, was in the thick of things while navigating the choppy political waters of the state that was cleaved along communal and linguistic lines over the sensitive issue. Hajela, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, had his share of bouquets and brickbats while he led a team of 52,000 officials that sifted through over six crore documents of 3.3 crore applicants, in one of the most complex exercise to validate the Indian citizenship of the residents of Assam.

The man of the moment, who is keeping a safe distance from media following an SC directive, was captured on TV cameras leaving his office on Friday night sporting a broad smile. He attended office on Saturday, the day the final NRC was published online, but was unavailable to journalists. The final NRC list was made public at 10am with 3,11,21,004 people found eligible for inclusion and 19,06,657 left out, said Hajela in a press release.

Former CM Tarun Gogoi of the Congress who claims credit for initiating the NRC update work during his tenure, had appointed Hajela as the state coordinator following an SC order for updating the citizenshiip roll in 2013. Soon after his appointment, the 50-year-old bureaucrat hit the ground running. Introduction of the concept of “family legacy data”, that traced the family tree of an applicant for validation of citizenship, brought him accolade.

Drawing on his technological expertise, Hajela, who has a BTech degree in Electronics from IIT, Delhi, introduced an innovative mechanism for collecting and collating data of the family tree of every resident of Assam.

The legacy data consisted of the names of residents or their descendants who figured in the first NRC prepared in 1951, or in any of the electoral rolls up to the the midnight of March 24, 1971, or any other admissible document which would prove their presence in Assam or any part of India on or before that date. On the way, Hajela faced criticism from political parties and civil society organisations for alleged flaws in the compilation of the citizenship register.

Guwahati-based civil society group "Sachetan Nagarik Mancha" alleged wrongful exclusions and inclusions in the list. Hajela responded, saying: "Such a system of this scale has been put in place for the first time in the entire country only during the NRC update for Assam. This system would certainly qualify to be one of the most scientific methods of verification." Hajela, in his letter to the Mancha said, "Handling more than six crore documents in a span of four years would not have been possible without an extremely sophisticated IT based system. This scale of verification of documents through comparison with the back-end is definitely a very scientific system of verification".

The term back-end refers to authorities who issue original documents like a municipal body in case of birth or death or the revenue department where ownership of land or transfers are recorded. Both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress as well as the AIUDF, which has a strong Muslim support base, repeatedly voiced concern over "faulty" inclusions and exclusions in the NRC. Interestingly, the names of Hajela and his daughter were missing from the first NRC draft published on December 31, 2017. The two had then appeared for a hearing after which their names figured in the final draft.

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