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Monday, July 04, 2022

Assam NRC head HD Sarma: Hajela baiter, no stranger to controversy

In his complaint lodged with the police last Thursday, state NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma seemed to have gone a step further, alleging that Hajela had deliberately introduced errors in the NRC and thus “endangered national security”.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: May 23, 2022 1:52:56 am
Assam NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma and his predecessor Prateek Hajela

Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) may be in a limbo but the issue continues to set off rows, which was again manifested recently when state NRC coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma filed a police complaint against his predecessor Prateek Hajela. Sarma’s complaint reflected his long-standing grouse against the NRC that was completed under Hajela’s supervision in August 2019. Sarma has repeatedly claimed that this NRC is “anomalies-ridden”.

In his complaint lodged with the police last Thursday, Sarma seemed to have gone a step further, alleging that Hajela had deliberately introduced errors in the NRC and thus “endangered national security”. Opposing the August 2019 NRC, he has even filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court seeking its re-verification.

In another controversial move, Sarma had, in April, written to Assam’s Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) — quasi-judicial bodies that decide on matters on nationality — instructing them not to rely on the “erroneous NRC” while adjudicating cases. An FT member wrote back, asking him not to “interfere” in its work.

Sarma’s tenure as the Assam NRC head has been marked by multiple controversies. He was appointed to the post by the BJP-led state government in November 2019 after the apex court ordered that Hajela be transferred out of Assam to Madhya Pradesh. Although the court did not explicitly state a reason for its order, it stated, “Can an order be without any basis?” After Sarma’s appointment, his old social media posts, which were alleged to be communally-biased, surfaced.

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Subsequently, state Congress MP Abdul Khaleque wrote to then Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, urging him to reconsider Sarma’s appointment. Khaleque stated that Sarma was neither “unbiased nor trustworthy”, citing his Facebook posts. The All-Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU) also flayed his appointment to the crucial position.

One of his social media posts about there being “lakhs and lakhs of Bangladeshis in the NRC” also attracted the Supreme Court’s attention, which asked him to delete the post and provide an explanation. It was only in January 2020 that he could assume his office after this furore subsided.

But Sarma, a 1989-batch Assam Civil Service officer, has stuck to his objections against the existing NRC, which has led to a situation whereby virtually none of the processes that were supposed to follow the NRC’s publication have been undertaken. So, 19 lakh people, who were excluded from the NRC, are yet to be issued formal rejection slips despite the Registrar General of India telling the state NRC coordinator to do so, leaving those rejected in a limbo. Without the rejection slips, they cannot approach the FTs to make their case of being Indians.

Earlier, Sarma had done another stint with the NRC office. From 2014 to 2017, he had served as an executive director of an NRC project led by Hajela, but had quit for “personal reasons” saying he was “not mentally as well as physically fit” to work in the project.

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