60 mn documents,15 mn notices, 120 TB data: The gruelling work behind NRC
After sifting through over 60 million documents submitted by 32.9 million people and issuing over 15 million system generated notices to appear for hearings to verify their claims of citizenship, the final updated National Register of Citizens will be published on August 31.
As the first step, even before the forms were issued, the authorities undertook the humungous task of digitising 6,00,000 old, even dog-eared pages of four major documents -- the 1951 NRC done in Assam, the voters lists of 1961, 1966 and 1971 -- together bunched as legacy documents.
Each entry in these documents was assigned one legacy code, basically a PNR kind of unique code to establish their family or parental linkage before the cut-off date. As many as 20.1 million of legacy codes were generated in the process.
In the interim, as the first tranche of ₹288 million was released, 2500 NRC Seva Kendras, mostly equipped with two laptops, one scanner, a printer and a genset came up across the state to facilitate submission of forms.
As many as 95% of the 32.9 million applicants from 6.83 million families used these legacy codes while filling up the 24 field NRC application form to claim their place in the NRC while the rest, including those who came to Assam from other states submitted 12 other documents. The application form did not have a column asking for religious beliefs.
“This was the first big challenge which we overcame,” said an official who has been closely involved in the exercise since it started gathering steam in 2013, recounted how they were not even sure if the people will submit forms.
Each form was scanned by the data entry operators at the NSK and assigned an application receipt number (ARN), a 21 digit number which would be used to track the status of the applications. The data was put in a hard drives and sent to the centralized database which is housed in the NRC state coordinators office.
Software giant Wipro was taken on board as the system integrator.
A complex software, called Docsmen was then used to segregate the over 64.4 million scanned documents, belonging broadly to 83 categories and helped them send for backend verification to 75,054 issuing authorities in India while a few hundred were sent to 37 other countries.
“This software helped a lot in sorting out the documents. For example it could sort out all the birth certificates issued by a particular hospital from all the applications,” said an official familiar with the exercise.
Software played an important role in the whole exercise. There were more than 53 big and small applications which were designed in a short span as per the requirements of the process.
Most of them like CORRES for claims and objections exercise or ALX or the other software which allowed central corrections or the one which allowed access to concerned officers sitting in multiple places dealing with multiple branches of family, were all named in-house mostly by state coordinator Prateek Hajela.
Meanwhile, field level officers were sent out to the 6.83 million households for house-to-house verification.
In the interim, the state coordinator and his team came up with the idea of family tree verification, and field level officers were asked to collect family tree from all households.
These handwritten family trees were matched with computer generated family trees through the family tree software and mismatches were called for over 9.1 million family tree hearings. In such hearing, in many places impostors were caught as they were not recognized by the real family members.
The Local Registrar of Citizens Registration, meanwhile, could digitally check the status of the verification exercises and accept or reject an applicant subject to approval by the superiors, the circle level officer and the district level officer.
While the process was less stringent for those categorized as original inhabitants, a contentious category of around 13 million people who were mostly just subject to field verifications, many among the remaining had to undergo stricter scrutiny with some even subject to multiple rounds of hearings including District Magistrate Investigations Hearings in cases where documents could not be verified due to poor backend.
Married women who submitted gram panchayat secretary certificate or a circle officer certificate as a link document for lack of any other document to link them to their parents, too, were subjected to a separate round of verification before the final draft was released which excluded 40,07,707 names.
Meanwhile, in the run up to the finalization of the claims and objections exercise, State Coordinator Prateek Hajela kicked up a storm when he submitted to the Supreme Court that five documents including legacy documents refugee and migration certificates and ration cards should not be allowed to be submitted afresh for filing claims for inclusion.
In a report to the Supreme Court which was later made public in 2018, Hajela claimed how multiple legacy codes of one person, for example one whose name is also in the 1951 NRC or in the voters lists could be used by other impostors for large scale mischief if there is a understanding between the real descendants and the impostors.
In the case of refugee and migration certificates, Hajela cited poor backend. For example in case of refugee certificates, only 7.4% could be verified and refugee and citizenship certificates accounted for the highest numbers where people could not produce the originals.
In the report, Hajela called for a paradigm shift and said it should change to “no ineligible person should be included” from “no genuine person should be left out.”
However, the Supreme Court had allowed the submission of five documents, albeit one could not change the name of the legacy person or through whom one has traced lineage in the application form. For example if a married woman had by mistake given the name of her father-in-law to trace lineage instead of her father, she could not rectify it once the application was submitted.
The claims submission which was slow, thus picked up pace and eventually over 3.62 million filed claims while around 2,00,000 objections were filed against those whose names figured in the draft NRC mostly by members associated with the All Assam Students Union (AASU), which earlier led the agitation against illegal foreigners. Many of these complaints had similar text and the those who filed it did not appear in front of the authorities for hearings.
According to officials associated with the exercise, over 9,00,000 hearings have been held in the claims and the objections phase while several others who had their names in the draft had been called to prove the veracity of their documents after they were found to ineligible.
Applicants have received notices to appear for hearings even on August 28, two days before the publishing of the final list. Unlike others, they won’t have the luxury of several days to prepare to file claims and have been asked to appear the next day where their case will be dealt with.
The office of the state coordinator had come under criticism earlier in July, as several thousand applicants most of whom had made it to the final draft were served notices to appear in front of the authorities in far away districts.
When asked, an official associated with the exercise claimed, “While many were found to be ineligible, many others were asked to report as witnesses. They were sent to Upper Assam districts to deal with paucity of officers and lack of time.”
Meanwhile, as the exercise comes to a close, the 3.29 million applications and corresponding documents have translated into over 120 TB of data which is stored in a secured database.