Released amid tight security today, the final draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) is the first since 1951 and important for many reasons.
Prateek Hajela, Principal Secretary, Home, and State Coordinator of the National Register of Citizens, is the man at the centre of today’s explosive draft report according to which nearly 40 lakh people in Assam will not find their names in the official list of all legal citizens in the state.
As per the second and final draft of the NRC, only 2,89,83,677 out of 3.29 crore applicants are eligible for citizenship. In the first draft published on December 31, 2017, the names of 1.9 crore of the 3.29 crore applicants were incorporated into the State NRC.
Hajela comes from a prominent family in Bhopal—his father, SP Hajela, was a former officer with the MPPSC (Madhya Pradesh Public Service Commission) while his brother, Anoop Hajela, is a reputed doctor in the same city. His uncle, meanwhile, was the VC of the Allahabad University.
As Home Commissioner, he was tasked with overseeing the aftermath of the horrific Bodo-Muslim riots of 2013. In fact, the State government appointed him as the Special Commissioner to manage emergency operations in the state, according to this report in The Hindu.
With a solid track record, he was even felicitated by the Chief Minister for ensuring transparency in the recruitment of 5,000 police constables.
Hajela is an IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre with a BTech in Electronics from IIT-Delhi. He took over as Assam coordinator of the NRC in September 2013, says this Economic Times report. The task before him was herculean since the State NRC hadn’t been updated since 1951. Hajela and his team had to develop an entirely new model for updating the NRC. There were no past precedents to fall back upon for the task which remains a political tinderbox.
The Hindu published a profile on him which stated, “He created the mechanism to be implemented, and the first major step was the development of the legacy data, where applicants have to submit the 1971 NRC or pre-1971 electoral roll (mandated by the Assam Accord that sets March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal migrants) that they would search for.”
Following this exercise, the next step was to create a digital database, after which he built a team of 68,000 officials, including government officials, contractual workers and specialists to operate the NRC Secretariat in the State capital and 2,500 Nagrik Seva Kendras across Assam, reports the same publication.
These processes took nearly two years to establish before he began the citizen verification process on September 1, 2017. Speaking to the Economic Times, Hajela claimed that the process is driven by technology, remains transparent and those who do not find their names in the list will have enough safeguards and avenues for grievance redressal.
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Considering the politics behind the exercise, Hajela has received praise and intense criticism in equal measure. Coordinating with various organisations both working in and outside government while appearing before different courts, the NRC team published its first draft on December 31, 2017.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)