EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

This is a completed, not final, draft of the NRC

Exclusive interview/ Prateek H., coordinator, National Register Of Citizens, Assam

44-prateek-hajela Prateek Hajela

THE FIRST DRAFT of an updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, published at 12 midnight on December 31, 2017, raised a huge furore. Only 1.9 crore of 3.3 crore people in Assam were recognised as Indian citizens, and many people mistook it for the final draft.

A “completed” draft will be announced before 12 noon on July 30. This time, the government has acted with a lot of care, assuring people that those who are not on the list will neither be detained nor be asked to leave the country.

Coordinating the largest-ever exercise to update the 1951 NRC is Prateek Hajela, a 1995-batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre and principal secretary (home) in Assam. A native of Bhopal, Hajela holds a BTech in electronics from IIT Delhi. He has been heading the NRC, a Supreme Court-monitored project aimed at identifying illegal immigrants, since September 2013.

He was instrumental in designing and implementing the unique and elaborate methodology involved in the NRC update. The objective of the methodology was to ascertain the genuineness of claims, in which applicants claimed to be descendants of people whose names figured in the 1951 NRC, or in pre-1971 electoral rolls. (The 1985 Assam Accord had set the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal migrants as March 24, 1971.)

Hajela devised the family-tree verification process, under which an applicant was required to submit a detailed line of descent that proved his or her relation to a legacy person—one who had an established proof of residence in Assam before 1971. The applications were manually collected and checked, and then fed into a software that prepared a computerised family tree. In case of a mismatch between a manual submission and the computerised family tree, an investigating officer would be assigned to ascertain facts. The findings of the officer would then be vetted by higher-level officials authorised by a district magistrate.

Hajela says the NRC update is a paradigm shift in e-governance, as it has made intelligent and efficient use of sophisticated technological platforms with easy-to-use interfaces. With barely a week left for publication of the completed NRC, he explains why there is no reason to worry for a legal resident of Assam. Excepts from an exclusive interview:

Are you ready with the completed NRC?

We have completed the NRC, which will be published on July 30. The completed draft has been prepared after disposing of all 3.3 crore applications we had received…. It will also include the names of 1.9 crore people who had already been recognised as legal citizens when the first draft was published on the midnight of December 31, 2017.

Will the completed draft also be announced at midnight, like the first draft was?

That time, the Supreme Court had said that it should be published on the expiry of the midnight of December 31. We stuck to the order literally. But now, we will hold the press conference during the day, and the completed draft should be published in the first half of the day.

Is this the final NRC draft?

I am not using the term ‘final’. This is the completed draft. Once the completed list is published, people whose names are not on it or have any objections, can appeal to the NRC again. These claims and objections will be looked into by NRC officers.

Is there a deadline for the filing of claims and objections after the completed draft is published?

We will give two months for people to send their claims and objections. The 60-day period will be available from July 30 to September 28.

But the number of claims and objections may be huge.

The procedure to file claims and objections is not new. In fact, it is as old as the election process in the country. Once the Election Commission comes out with the electoral rolls, people are free to file claims and objections, which are addressed before the polls take place. The update of the NRC is attracting all the attention just because it is a unique exercise.

When will the ‘final’ NRC be published?

I cannot give a timeline for it, but we hope to complete the entire process soon. People will file claims and objections, and their concerns will be addressed. After that, if some people are still left out or have an objection, they can go to the foreigners’ tribunal.

What will happen to people whose names don’t make it to the NRC? Will they be detained or asked to leave?

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has already addressed this concern. He has said that no one will be detained or pushed out. People whose names are not in the NRC will have all the freedom to file their claims, and approach the foreigners’ tribunal at a later stage.

When does your job get over?

My job gets over the moment the final NRC is published. There are other government departments and agencies to look into citizenship issues after that. That will be the Union government’s call.

There has been a lot of criticism and opposition to the way the NRC update was carried out.

Yes, I am being targeted through various campaigns and on social media, where I am being personally attacked. The state government has provided me and my family with security cover because of the threat perception. But, I feel that this huge campaign against me will settle down once the completed list is published.

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