NRC Assam coordinator Prateek Hajela explains what went on behind the scenes in the final stages of the first draft of Assam's National Register of Citizens (NRC)
Guwahati: The preparation of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC), primarily carried out to weed out illegal Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam, involved the work of more than 52,000 state government employees and the centre spending ₹ 1,200 crore over a three-year period to complete the massive exercise. The man who spearheaded it, Prateek Hajela, the state coordinator for NRC, comments on the exercise.
About 4 million people have been left out of the final draft. Why have they been excluded, and what happens to them?
It was a mammoth exercise. One that has taken us three years. As of now, we cannot disclose the reasons why the 4 million people have been left out, for reasons of confidentiality.
As for the fate of the people, we need to first conclude the entire NRC exercise. We need to come out with the final list. Only then can we say what will, or will not happen, to those who do not make it to the NRC list.
Are you going to make more changes to the list you have just released?
We are yet to publish the complete and final list. What we published in January 2018 was only half finished. The Supreme Court had asked us to publish whatever we had, when that list was still a work in progress. Now after the verification of all the 33 million applicants, we have released the complete draft. But, it is still a draft, and not the final list.
How can those excluded from the list seek recourse, given that they may not have any other documentary proof?
We have a systematic process for reapplying, even after the final draft was released. For those whose names are not in the list, they can file for claims and objections. We will reconsider the evidence that they had submitted earlier. The NRC authorities will then look into the claims and objections that people file. The NRC verification exercise will not be over till the final list is published. Once the final list is published, people can approach the foreigners tribunal (in Assam) and file their affidavits there.
What was the methodology used to establish the veracity of the peoples’ claims?
We had researched the family tree verification method extensively. We had digitized names of the persons appearing on the electoral rolls of 1971. The legacy data code then made it easier for the public to quote. So all people who are descendants of one person, whose name appears on the 1971 list, can easily name their ancestor. We then check for consistency in the claims of the applicants who have quoted the name of that particular ancestor.
Is it not easy to falsely quote the name of an ancestor?
The 1951 NRC data was, through legal means, distributed by the Congress, and that along with the 1971 data, was easily available to the public. Therefore, it was very easy to misuse. And this system could well be misused by illegal immigrants.
So how do you tell a genuine case from a bogus one?
If an applicant is submitting his applications, then before the computer generates the family tree, each person has to give the names of all siblings, descendants and ancestors. He is required to submit a manual family tree, which we will then match with the digitized family tree, in order to establish the veracity of the application. This process also helped us detect any mismatch or discrepancy and detect bogus cases.
But one may not know all the details about an ancestor. So what happens if they erroneously mention a name on the application form?
Sometimes the size of a family can be very big. So, human errors are possible. It may also happen that an applicant does not know the full name of his descendants (nieces, nephews, etc) because a lot of people go by pet names. So the actual registered name may not be known. In which case, there is a round of verification and correction.
There have been cases where one person has been listed as a “father" by 10 people. What happens in those cases?
Yes. There were also cases where one legacy person has been shown in several forms, that is, one person was shown to be the father of several sons or daughters. In such cases, the family tree verification came into effect. So the officer examining the case will go through the manual family tree and then decide on the case.
Alternatively, there are genuine cases where a person has multiple descendants or children. How is the verification process carried out in such cases?
Sometimes in cases where documentary evidence is difficult to obtain, the applicants who have specified the same legacy person in their application are called before the NRC verifying officer. For example, if one person in Dibrugarh and one person in Guwahati have given the same legacy person, but there was some discrepancy in the applications, we call both persons before the officer at the same place (either Dibrugarh or Guwahati) and then the physical verification is done when both parties are present.