Prateek Hajela: The man who helmed Assam NRC
One of the most discussed men in the context of the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is Prateek Hajela, a senior Indian administrative officer who helmed the massive exercise of updating the list for the last four years.
Hajela is at the receiving end of almost all major political parties for the final NRC which was dubbed as a "flawed" one, with over 1.9 million people being left out of the list. He has received much more brickbats than bouquets and is being projected by the parties and individuals alike as the "villain", including by former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi who had appointed him six years ago.
A 1995 batch officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, 50-year-old Hajela, who has his office on the first floor of a multi-storied building in Guwahati's busy GS Road, is a graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
Hajela was appointed as the state NRC Coordinator in September 2013 on the recommendations of the then Congress government in Assam when he was the Managing Director of the National Rural Health Mission. Subsequently, he put together a team that presided the Rs 1,200 crore NRC updating project that involved 55,000 officials and 66.4 million documents.
One of the key methods used to update the NRC was the family tree verification to check if anyone has wrongly used the documents of another family. The process saw officials match a computer-generated family tree with the handwritten one and subjecting mismatches to elaborate hearings where all the members had to come together at one NRC seva kendra (service centre).
He was closely involved in designing the more than 53 software applications that formed the core of the NRC verification process.
The Supreme Court insulated him from political pressure of a government and in an order in 2018 directed him to not share any information with anyone, including the state government. His communication with the top court was only through his reports that were submitted in sealed envelopes.
Hajela also kept away from the media for a year until the final NRC was made public yesterday.
Assam's ruling BJP left no opportunity to criticise Hajela hard since July this year. Even the man who handpicked him -- Tarun Gogoi -- said that the process lacked guidance and coordination.
"It seems he (Hajela) is not doing it properly. While lakhs of Indian citizens have been excluded, many foreigners were included in the final NRC," Gogoi said.
In his defence, Hajela tweeted yesterday that "all decisions of inclusion and exclusion are taken by statutory officers."
"The entire process…. has been meticulously carried out in an objective and transparent manner," he said. "Adequate opportunity of being heard has been given to all persons at every stage of the process," Hajela added. -Agencies