Before his transfer, Prateek Hajela had drawn criticism from state govt, BJPhttps://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/assam/prateek-hajela-drew-criticism-from-state-govt-bjp-6076742/

Before his transfer, Prateek Hajela had drawn criticism from state govt, BJP

Hajela drew the BJP’s ire earlier, too. Last September, he had suggested to the Supreme Court that five documents of the 15 List A documents of the NRC process be rendered ineligible in the ‘claims and objections’ round.

Prateek Hajela drew criticism from state govt, BJP
Prateek Hajela

The transfer of Assam’s NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela follows his deteriorating relationship with the state government, and mounting criticism from the state BJP and Congress.

When contacted, Hajela declined to comment on the transfer. Assam’s Commissioner and Secretary, (Home and Political) Department, Ashutosh Agnihotri also declined to comment.

In July, the Assam government and the Centre had petitioned the Supreme Court for re-verification of a sample of names included in the draft NRC — 20% in border districts and 10% elsewhere — but this was dismissed by the apex court after Hajela said that re-verification of 27% names was already done. Since then, the state government and the state BJP have been critical of Hajela.

In a statement on July 24, the state BJP said that Hajela was working under the direction of “certain forces” to “publish a faulty NRC with names of illegal foreigners in it”.

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On August 1, the state government released the exclusion data of the draft NRC to question the accuracy of the process. In its reply on the floor of the Assembly, the state government had said that Hajela’s reasoning was wrong. Presenting the same arguments it had presented to the apex court demanding re-verification, it said, “The rate of exclusions in border districts is much lower than other districts and state average, which is worrisome. The claim of learned SCNR (Hajela) that around 25% inclusions have been re-verified as an indirect/ incidental outcome of hearing conducted for claims is an incorrect exercise.”

BJP’s Hojai MLA Shiladitya Dev said in the Assembly that day, “The entire process is left in the hands and mercy of one person who is the state coordinator of NRC. Nobody is to be heard on it… Whatever Mr Hajela will provide is the only truth.”

Hajela drew the BJP’s ire earlier, too. Last September, he had suggested to the Supreme Court that five documents of the 15 List A documents of the NRC process — 1951 NRC, voters’ lists up to March 24, 1971, citizenship certificate, refugee registration certificate and ration cards issued prior to March 24, 1971 — be rendered ineligible in the ‘claims and objections’ round, the next step after the final draft.

In his report dated October 4 last year, Hajela told the apex court why he thought the five documents should be excluded and raised concerns about forgery, digital manipulation, and misuse by alleged non-citizens to try to get their names into the NRC. He advised a “need for a paradigm shift from ‘no genuine citizen should be left out’ to ‘no ineligible person should be included'”. But the apex court allowed the five documents.

As far as the Congress is concerned, former chief minister Tarun Gogoi wrote to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi on September 5, apprising him that there is discontent among large sections of society over the final NRC. He alleged that Hajela had not “discharged his duty and responsibility efficiently and effectively as per your direction”.

In interviews with The Indian Express over the last two months since publication of the final NRC, top state bureaucrats and senior ministers said that the NRC office was not sharing certain data with the state government — such as details of around 4 lakh people who were out of the draft NRC but had not filed their “claims”, and the district and revenue circle-wise estimate of persons excluded from final NRC which would have helped the state in distributing the 200 Foreigners Tribunals being set up to meet the burden of the post-NRC appeals process.

The transfer comes amid speculation that Hajela — who also holds the position of Principal Secretary, Home and Political — could have faced difficulty in going back to the state government once NRC work was wrapped up.

In September 2013, Hajela was appointed Commissioner and Secretary of the Home and Political department of Assam by the then Congress government and also took over as State Coordinator for the NRC updation process as the nodal officer for the Registrar General of India. As the process progressed, Hajela was credited with devising technical concepts that guide the NRC updation — where a person’s ancestry could be mapped via digital datasets, which draws from decades-old documents — and planning the modus operandi for consequent rounds of physical verification.