An inspection report related to a partial audit of the NRC exercise from 2013 to 2017 by the office of the Accountant General (Audit) had raised questions regarding instances of alleged “financial irregularities and impropriety” in the exercise, including its transactions with an IT major and expenditure on human resources.
These queries were sent to the office of the NRC State Coordinator and a copy was sent to the state government’s finance department. The audit pertains to the period 1/4/2014 to 31/12/2017 and was sent with a request to the then state coordinator Prateek Hajela for a reply within a month. A document containing key observations of the inspection report was leaked to the media by government sources on Thursday.
“It was an interim audit report,” a top official of the finance department told The Indian Express.
However, a source familiar with the developments said, “Each objection raised in the inspection was countered (by Hajela’s office). There is a due procedure for an AG audit. It’s a long process, with to-and-fro communication and explanation in any audit. But someone is trying to short-circuit the process by leaking this report and scoring political points. This process has not been completed yet. Also, if the state received this in 2018, why wait to leak it now?”
Hajela was transferred to Madhya Pradesh by a Supreme Court order. On his last day in office on November 11, he had told The Indian Express, “All expenditures and sanctions are as per due process. Audit has already happened for 70% of the work.”
Several officials who The Indian Express spoke to, both in the NRC directorate and state government, said that in every audit exercise, such exchanges are routine practice. The final audit is awaited from the AG.
The report follows Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s comment to the media on November 28 that there was a report regarding financial irregularities in NRC functioning and the government would make it public soon. Sarma had said that the state government had not acted upon it when the NRC was going on.
A major part of the questions raised in the AG’s report relates to financial transactions with an IT giant that worked in the NRC process as its ‘system integrator’. Hundreds of data entry operators were employed contractually by the company. In September, the office of the Labour Commissioner in Assam lodged a case against the company in Guwahati based on a two-year-old complaint by a group of eight data-entry operators working on contract for the NRC through the company.
The source quoted above said that it was not only Hajela’s office that was involved in the contract with the company.
“There is a state government ‘coordination committee’ that oversees the NRC process and it includes representatives from Home, Finance, Revenue, Personnel, IT and the RGI’s office. The state coordinator is part of the committee. The contract with the IT company and its extension was not directly through the state coordinator’s office but approved by the committee,” the source said.
Hajela’s transfer followed his deteriorating relationship with the Assam government, and criticism of him by the state BJP.