Monday, 30th October 2017

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Tenacity, thy name is Hajela

Assam NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela appears amazingly relaxed and confident despite the brouhaha over the non-inclusion of 40.07 lakh applicants from the complete draft of National Register of Citizens, 1951, being updated in the state.

By UMANAND JAISWAL in Guwahati
  • Published 3.08.18
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NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela at his office in Guwahati on Thursday. Picture by Manash Das

Guwahati: Assam NRC state coordinator Prateek Hajela appears amazingly relaxed and confident despite the brouhaha over the non-inclusion of 40.07 lakh applicants from the complete draft of National Register of Citizens, 1951, being updated in the state.

The 48-year-old Assam bureaucrat said it was his duty to "explain" things to "correct" perceptions on the <$>Supreme Court-monitored NRC so that it does not affect the "confidence" of people associated with the exercise and the people of the state.

"It is my duty to explain things because people outside are not familiar with the NRC process as it is being updated only in Assam. All the commotion is taking place outside. They cannot appreciate or understand what is going on in Assam. It is a very sensitive issue. There is no interference, there is no agenda driving the NRC, except preparing an error-free list of Indian citizens," Hajela said.

That everything is fine with the drive can be gauged from the peace prevailing in Assam, he said, adding that those left out of the draft list are also peacefully waiting for the claims and objections process to start.

"Let us not forget that the NRC update is being carried out under the close supervision of the Supreme Court. It is the first-of-its-kind exercise in India. The transparent and massive IT-driven system we have put in place has worked fine. But I will be the first to admit there could be human errors, for which we have claims and objections. So those left out can prove their Indian credentials," Hajela, who hails from Bhopal, told The Telegraph .

"We cannot say they are ghuspetiyas or illegal immigrants. Those not figuring in the updated NRC can seek legal redressal. Only a judicial scrutiny will decide whether he/she is an illegal immigrant. I am absolutely satisfied with the system in place, and the faith of stakeholders in the system we have put in place," Hajela said.

According to Hajela, the post-draft list peace in Assam has a lot to do with the "handling" of the citizenship issue since the 1900s, including a six-year movement against foreigners culminating in the 1985 Assam Accord which fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and deportation of migrants illegally staying in Assam. The NRC update is based on this pact.

Those associated with the "very meticulous" Hajela say his IIT Delhi background came in "handy" while designing the processes for the update from scratch and ensuring its implementation across the state with clockwork precision. To them, the NRC is a paradigm shift in Assam's e-governance scene, having a set of "best practices to share on data collection, verification and creation of databases".

About 55,000 government and contractual personnel are engaged in the process, including the 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras where collection of applications and verifications took place and which will also handle the final phase of claims and objections from August 7 to September 28. Hajela admits his inclination towards technology saw him use IT interventions "to the hilt" - from devising the apps and official NRC website, which opens with visuals from the Assam Agitation, to digitising the 1951 NRC - as there was nothing to fall back on.

"In 1999, in the pre-laptop days, I used to carry my desktop home everyday for about two months to develop a software which could help keep track of official correspondence. It was called the CS Dak Monitoring System. Yes, my passion for technology helped. The NRC update process is technology driven, transparent and objective," he said.

There is no time to waste for the 10am to 10pm man who has immersed himself in the next phase because he is "responsible" to take the exercise to its "logical" end - an "error-free" NRC in accordance with the schedule to be laid down by the apex court.