Don’t engage district officials in non-NRC work: NRC state coordinator to Assam govt

The letter sent on July 21 by Prateek Hajela to the northeastern state’s chief secretary comes at a time when Assam has been hit by devastating floods in which 78 people have died, lakhs affected in most districts of Assam.
In a hearing on July 23, the Supreme Court granted a month’s extension to the NRC deadline pushing it to August 31 on Hajela’s plea asking for more time owing to work getting affected due to floods and pending quality checks.(Rajib Jyoti Sarma /HT Photo)
In a hearing on July 23, the Supreme Court granted a month’s extension to the NRC deadline pushing it to August 31 on Hajela’s plea asking for more time owing to work getting affected due to floods and pending quality checks.(Rajib Jyoti Sarma /HT Photo)
Published on Jul 26, 2019 12:45 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Guwahati | BySadiq Naqvi

A letter by National Register of Citizens’ state coordinator to the Assam’s top bureaucrat seeking urgent directions to not involve senior officials in non-NRC work has the state government baffled.

The letter sent on July 21 by Prateek Hajela to the northeastern state’s chief secretary comes at a time when Assam has been hit by devastating floods in which 78 people have died, lakhs affected in most districts of Assam.

Hajela’s letter, which has been seen by Hindustan Times, says the Supreme Court ordered on April 10, 2019, that NRC officials will perform duties related to the citizens’ list exclusively.

“It is seen that officers in the field particularly, the Deputy Commissioners (deployed as District Registrars of Citizens Registration) and circle officers (deployed as Circle Registrars of Citizens Registration) are burdened with various other works like aspirations districts, MSK, waste management, etc. Various video conferences are also being held frequently with the Deputy Commissioners on non-NRC issues,” the letter reads.

The letter cites the state government’s intervening application to the Supreme Court and notes, “considering the fact that quality in final NRC is a matter of highest priority, and even the state of Assam has filed an IA in the court highlighting their concern on wrong inclusions as well as wrong exclusions. It is imperative that Deputy Commissioners and Circle Officers are not burdened with any works other than NRC”.

In a hearing on July 23, the Supreme Court granted a month’s extension to the NRC deadline pushing it to August 31 on Hajela’s plea asking for more time owing to work getting affected due to floods and pending quality checks.

Hajela’s letter sought urgent “directions to all other departments not to involve Deputy Commissioners and Circle Officers with non-NRC works including holding video conferences with them on Non-NRC issues.”

While the letter does not mention floods specifically, a deputy commissioner in a flood-affected district said in the last two weeks there have been at least two video conferences with the DCs, including one by chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and another one by senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, to take stock of damage and to issue directions for relief among other things.

This DC said the official on the ground is left to his own to prioritise when faced with pressure to work on NRC even as the district reels under a calamity.

A top official familiar with NRC developments, however, claimed that involvement of DCs and circle officers in non-NRC duties routinely after the Supreme Court’s April order is what prompted the letter to the chief secretary and not the recent flood-related video conferences.

The top court had said in that order that “after the completion of the Parliamentary Elections, the NRC staff who may have been currently assigned Election duties be redeployed exclusively for NRC works and be subjected to the administrative control of the Registrar General of India and the state coordinate.”

“The work has suffered,” this official said.

A top state government official said on the condition of anonymity that Hajela’s letter has been sent to the legal department for their opinion and an appropriate response will be given.

“Deputy commissioner is like a father of the district. There are so many things that he has to take care of. Right now there is so much happening including flood relief work and so many people have lost life and property,” this official cited above said when asked if directions to not involve officers in non-NRC work will be issued.

The official explained while it could be said the focus should remain on NRC and that its work is not hampered but it is difficult to expect DCs and circle officers to just work on the citizens’ list.

Chief minister Sonowal also seemed to have a similar opinion the asked in an interview to HT if the NRC work could have been suspended to put officials to focus on flood relief.

“You will have to agree that in times of any calamity our first duty should be to provide relief to people… On this issue, there should be no compromise in any situation. If we don’t stand by the flood-affected people, it will be a big sin, an injustice, a violation of their human rights…” Sonowal said.

Sonowal also hinted that involvement of government officials in NRC work has hampered implementation of other schemes.

“If 55,000 out of five lakh (employees and officers) are engaged only in one work then you can estimate the kind of challenge the state government had to face in implementing flagship schemes within their deadlines…” he said.

At its peak, the recent second wave of flooding in the state has left more than five million people affected in 30 out of 33 districts of the state.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2021