In the National Register of Citizen's (NRC) archive in Assam is the case of Suresh Das who could not make it to the final draft published last month. Das had submitted an Elector Photo Identity Card (EPIC) and a PAN card with his name inscribed on it, which he assumed were evidence enough to establish his citizenship. He also supposedly paid money to an agent, who advised and helped him procure these documents.
Das didn't suspect something was amiss until he was summoned for a hearing by an NRC Seva Kendra more than four months ago. He was quizzed by officials and confronted with facts that do not seem to establish the claims he had made for inclusion in the register. Under duress, he confessed he was actually Fakhruddin Ali who had procured the voter and PAN cards by assuming a fictitious name.
He claimed that he had left home at an early age and did not know where his parents were, compelling him to assume a false identity for the NRC. When asked if he knew that he was committing an offence, he said, "Yes, I know that. But I could not apply with the name 'Fakhruddin'. After asking many people, I found my father's address. I have searched and gathered the genuine linkage and I have told Sir (at Seva Kendra ) on the day of hearing."
Further details about the case were difficult to obtain due to a squeeze on information about the exercise after the Supreme Court reprimanded coordinator Prateek Hajela and registrar general Sailesh for frequently speaking to the media. The video was accessed by this correspondent last month from an employee at an NRC Seva Kendra who was able to record the episode on his cell phone.
Many cases like Fakhruddin Ali
Fakhruddin is just one among the many cases detected and deleted from the list. Before the final draft was published on 30 July, officials at the Secretariat had offered estimates varying between 9 lakh and 11 lakh applicants who had either submitted forged papers or sought to establish bogus linkages in the family tree verification.
According to informed sources, many fake applicants were assisted by a network of agents, some of whom had reportedly established a line with officials entrusted with the verification process. While some of these cases were identified, some were lucky to have passed through the arduous checks in the exercise.
Many cases have been highlighted by the media, and among them is a person from Sivasagar who was declared a foreigner by the Foreigners' Tribunal and the Gauhati High Court, but who succeeded in enlisting his name in the NRC. Another case is from Morigaon, where the deputy commissioner Hemen Das went on record to say that 200 persons from 39 families — either declared foreigners or whose cases were pending in the Foreigners' Tribunals' — were in the NRC draft.
Some officials believe that there could be a large chunk of people who never applied for the NRC, either due to a fear of being identified or because they never had the money to pay agents for documents like PAN or voter ID cards. They feel that a network already exists that helps illegal migrants settle in other parts of the country, especially in the southern states.
The case of Fakhruddin Ali also raises grave questions over the norms adopted by the Election Commission for the voter ID cards. Many of these cards issued to citizens also suffer from factual errors — instances of faulty names are found which do not match with the information given in the forms by the applicants (this correspondent also has an incorrect name in the card). How these cards were issued by the Election Commission could just be another great story waiting to be unraveled.
Can the errors be rectified?
Two questions on NRC frequently discussed among some circles in Assam are whether there would be a provision to identify fake cases in the list, and if all citizens whose names did not find a mention in the draft would be included in the final list?
A senior government official in the home department of the state government involved in preparing the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) said that all "crucial issues" have been discussed and incorporated, which will now be submitted to the Supreme Court on 16 August.
"The next phase is the most crucial for the NRC exercise. The errors would be rectified and the norms would be clearly spelt out in the SOP. It must be borne in mind that out of the total of 68 lakh families who had applied for the NRC, only about 3.11 lakh had applied online, and the rest in hard copies," he claimed, adding, "There were also silly mistakes by the data entry operators who were working for almost 10-12 hours every day to meet the deadline."
It may be mentioned that the names of about 1.15 lakh people included in the first draft of the NRC published on 31 December 2017 were deleted from the final draft. These included 65,694 cases with bogus linkages in the family tree and 48,456 cases of married women who had submitted Panchayat certificates.
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Updated Date: Aug 16, 2018 12:02:39 IST