Warns software used is vulnerable to data manipulation

BJP in frustration continues to target Muslims in the state

Abdul Bari Masoud comments on the recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) on the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and brings into light several irregularities and inaccuracies pointed out by the CAG.

A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) on the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam has revealed severe anomalies, including the “haphazard development” of software for the operation that made it vulnerable to data manipulation and the flagging of unauthorised gains totalling crores gathered by the system integrator (SI) by breaking the Minimum Wages Act.

This revelation seems to bode evil as the state’s government, which is governed by the BJP, has rejected the final NRC as being “inaccurate” and several local chauvinist groups approached the Supreme Court to review the process. 

The NRC exercise has debunked the Bangladeshi infiltration bogey and 1.9 million of the 33 million applicants were excluded from the final NRC list published in August 2019 due to questions about their claims to be Indian citizens. Those excluded from the list were mostly non-Muslim citizens who entered the state after the March 25, 1971 cut-off date. Updating exercise of the 1951 NRC for Assam was carried out under directions of the Supreme Court in order to detect illegal citizens.

The CAG report for the year ending March 31, 2020 stated: “In NRC updation process, highly secure and reliable software was required to be developed; audit, however, observed lack of proper planning in this regard to the extent of 215 software utilities were added in a haphazard manner to the core software.”

The auditor noted a few concerns in a compliance report titled “Logistical arrangements for NRC update project in Assam” that was presented to the Assam Assembly on December 24 last year.

The procedure to update the NRC had been initiated in December 2014, with a target completion date of February 2015 and an estimated project cost of `288.18 crore. But by March 2022, the price had multiplied fivefold as a result of longer completion times and updated software. The report stated that “the project cost soared to `1,602.66 crore (expenditure of `1,579.78 crore was reported)” and that “the final draft of the document was published in August 2019”. It said that a preliminary review of the data had found inconsistencies in the use of funds, including “excess and improper payment to vendors.”

A test check of records revealed irregularities in the utilisation of funds including “excess and inadmissible payment to vendors”, the report observed.

Regarding discrepancies, the CAG discovered that the pay given to the outsourced workers were 45.59%–64.27% less than what the NRC coordination committee had authorised. According to the CAG, it was this salary disparity that allowed the system integrator to receive an unauthorised advantage of 155.83 crore, above and beyond the 10% “fair profit margin.” The NRC Directorate gave one of the top software installation firms to the information technology company Wipro Limited.

The report also highlighted the project’s cost increases, which went from `288.18 crore in 2014 to `1,602.66 crore (when the procedure was finished in 2019) as a result of time overruns and a major alteration in the scope of the previously conceptualised NRC update software.

The CAG underlined that even though 215 software tools were added to the core programme, secure and dependable software was still needed for the SC-directed exercise. According to the audit, this was accomplished without adhering to the proper procedures for software development and vendor selection through tendering. Despite spending more than necessary, the CAG claimed that the desired goal of creating an accurate and error-free NRC was not achieved.

THE NRC EXERCISE

To identify people born in India and immigrants from the former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, an NRC was originally designed in Assam in 1951. The Supreme Court instructed the Centre and State to begin a task in Assam to update the 1951 register in 2013. The decision was made in response to a petition filed by the NGO Assam Public Works. In 2018, the early draft was made public. The final list, which was released in 2019, included people who could prove their Indian citizenship by being Assamese residents or descended from Assamese people who lived in the region before March 25, 1971, the deadline for deporting foreign nationals under the terms of the Assam Accord from August 1985.

After the exercise, out of 3.3 crore applicants, 19.06 lakh were rejected because they lacked the necessary documentation to verify their citizenship. The final list was rejected by several chauvinists and communal parties, including the BJP as “faulty” as it exposed their falsehood that Assam was being turned into an “Islamic State”.

Three years later, the process has been put on hold because the final list has not yet been announced by the Registrar General of India (RGI).

Since the NRC exercise disproved the myth of Bangladeshi infiltration, sectarian groups are attempting to stir up trouble for the Muslim population (which accounts one-third of Assam’s total population) under various pretexts in order to marginalise them politically and socially.

Speaking with Radiance, Ahamed Hassan Imran, a former Trinamool Congress MP and the editor of Kolkata-based Puber Kalom, charged that the BJP-led Assam government has single out the Muslim community since it took office for the second time.

Former MP Hassan also listed the atrocities against Muslims after Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma took office in May 2021.

“The BJP government in Assam, led by the Chief Minister Mr. Himanta Biswa Sarma has committed many atrocities against Muslims, such as shutting down of state-funded Madrasas institutions, bludgeoning of even private Madrasas and killing of Muslim youths in false police encounters, etc.,” he alleged.

Dr. Vikas Bajpai, Convener of Janhastakshep, a campaign against fascist designs, told Radiance that the BJP’s plot to deny Muslims in the state the right to vote through the CAA-NRC has failed and in frustration it is targeting Muslims through eviction spree in the name of encroachment.

“Having failed in their designs of disenfranchising the Muslims in the state through the CAA-NRC exercise, the BJP is giving vent to its frustration by way of the eviction drive launched in different areas of Muslim population in the state in the name of having illegally occupied government land vacated. That this is being done specifically to target the Muslims is clear from the fact that Himanta Sarma government has been distributing land deeds to the indigenous people in the state who would also otherwise qualify as illegal encroachers. The same facility however has not been extended to Muslims in the state who have been living in their respective villages for generations,” Dr Bajpai said.

Between May 2021 and September 2022, the BJP government demolished homes of a total of 4449 Bengali Muslim families in the state.

In the latest eviction drive, 550 families were evicted from Lumding reserve forest in Hojai district in November 2022. On 21 December in the Batadrawa tehsil of Nagaon district of Assam, 120 houses in Haidubi village, 40 in Kadamoni, 108 houses in Lalung gaon and 90 houses in Jamai Basti village were demolished. 56 houses have been demolished in Baghbar area of Barpeta district while in Sagunmari village of Bilasipara subdivision 30 houses have been demolished in December last itself.

Himanta Biswa Sarma joined BJP on the eve of the 2016 assembly elections after defecting from the Congress. He has demonstrated greater loyalty than King Character after taking over as CM.

On the CAG Report, he told reporters: “We had been waiting for the report of CAG with regards to irregularities in the NRC updation process. Now that the report has been submitted, we will take a call on the next course of action.”

His statement has ominous portents who had earlier rejected the final NRC report and sought a fresh exercise of NRC.

It is puzzling that a number of Muslim Assamese leaders, including MLAs, were unaware of the CAG’s conclusions about the NRC exercise. Many of them said that they were unaware of this report when Radiance approached them.

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