With the office of the state coordinator of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) vacant for the last one week since Prateek Hajela’s transfer, and new appointee Hitesh Dev Sarma being on leave, more than 19 lakh people excluded from the final NRC are still waiting for their rejection slips, citing reasons for their rejection.
In another development, a top state government official told The Indian Express on Monday that the government has taken up Sarma’s appointment with the Registrar General of India (RGI). “We have written to the RGI stating that the Supreme Court should regularise Sarma’s appointment, failing which he (Sarma) will not be appointed,” the official said.
The official added that in case of Sarma not being appointed, the job could be entrusted to Director of Census Operations in Assam. This comes on the heels of criticism of Sarma’s appointment over his posts on social media.
Congress MP from the state Abdul Khaleque had earlier written to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, urging him to reconsider Sarma’s appointment. Khaleque wrote that Sarma is neither “unbiased nor trustworthy” and cited his Facebook posts in an effort to back up his assertion.
The All-Assam Minorities Students’ Union has also criticised Sarma’s selection.
In a post on February 13, restricted only to ‘friends’ on Facebook, Sarma had stated that there are “lakhs and lakhs of Bangladeshis in the NRC”. In another post, on November 15, 2017, Sarma wrote, “Minority appeasement policy for the last seven decades has changed the definition of secularism.”
Asked about Sarma’s absence from office, a senior government official said, “He has not joined his new position since he is on a month-long leave for his son’s wedding.”
Sarma did not take The Indian Express’s call on Monday evening.
Hajela, 50, a 1995-batch IAS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre, led the NRC preparation exercise as the state coordinator since 2013. On October 18, the Supreme Court ordered Hajela’s inter-cadre transfer to Madhya Pradesh.
The Assam government subsequently appointed Sarma, an Assam Civil Service officer of 1989 batch, in an order dated November 9, as the NRC state coordinator.
Sarma had come to the office on November 11, Hajela’s last day at work, and had said that he would join work in a day or two. The office has remained vacant for one week since.
Sarma had served as executive director of NRC between 2014 and February 2017. Sources at the NRC office had earlier told The Indian Express that Sarma’s first stint ended after he himself sought relief from his responsibilities. In a letter dated November 19, 2016, and addressed to Hajela, Sarma mentioned “personal reasons”, and stated that he was “not mentally as well as physically fit” to work in the NRC project.
The NRC exercise took place following a Supreme Court order in December 2014 for a time-bound preparation, and thereafter under the court’s direct monitoring.