Assam NRC Coordinator accuses predecessor of corruption, money laundering

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Assam’s NRC (National Register of Citizens) Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma has filed another FIR with the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption wing of Assam government alleging corruption and money laundering by former NCR state co-ordinator Prateek Hajela, officials said on Tuesday.

Dev Sarma, who is also the Secretary of the Home and Political Department of the Assam government, had filed the first FIR with the CID against Hajela accusing him and few others of criminal and anti-national activities. In the second FIR filed on Monday, the incumbent NRC Coordinator in his complaint said that the then state coordinator was aware of the fact that a sub-contractor was being used to provide Data Entry Operators (DEO) though he did not officially approve the proposal of System Integrator (SI) for engaging M/S Integrated System and Services.

The SI was paid Rs 14,500 to Rs 17,500 per month per DEO by the NRC authority, but the DEOs got only Rs 5,500 to Rs 9,100 per month during 2015 to 2019 even the DEOs were denied the minimum wage as per the Minimum Wages Act, and as per a provisional audit report, the Accountant General, Assam has observed that “the difference of margin ranged from 45.59 to 64.27 per cent was exorbitant and audit assessed that undue benefit of Rs 155.83 crore was allowed to SI and labour contractor after allowing 10 per cent reasonable profit margin to the contractor”.

“Undue benefit to the tune of Rs 155.83 crore is a huge amount and it is reasonable to suspect that kickbacks and money laundering must have occurred in the process. During my investigation it came to light that one Proloy Seal worked as a middleman in the whole process. He was neither an employee of the office of the state coordinator nor was he a contractor engaged by the office. But his presence was seen always in the office. It is suspected that he was the key person in managing all the kickbacks and money laundering,” said the complaint available with IANS.

As per the audit report there was avoidable expenditure to the tune of Rs 10.73 crore in connection with the engagement of Third-Party Monitoring Consultant (TPMC).

“Further, as per the amended Delegation of Financial Power (DFP) Rules, for expenditure of more than Rs 5 crore, the state coordinator should obtain approval of the Empowered Committee headed by the Chief Secretary or from the Registrar General of India.

As the audit report observed that ‘entire expenditure of Rs 10.73 crore made against the engagement of consultants was unjustified and avoidable which resulted extra burden to the government exchequer and undue benefit to the SI to that extent, it is suspected that the TPMC was used to siphon off government money showing works against the same scope of work allotted to the Project Management Oversight of SI, the complaint said.

In view of Dev Sarma’s first complaint, a case was registered in the CID department of the state.

The complaint had stated that in the NRC updating exercise, the “Family Tree Matching” procedure was adopted to check fraudulent practices used to make false linkage claims with persons residing in Assam in the pre-1971 era.

Since the NRC updating exercise involved large manpower, there was a provision for the quality checks to avoid erroneous entries in the NRC before the ‘Family Tree Matching’ was introduced. But, the procedure did not have any quality check system.

Dev Sarma in his first complaint said that the software was deliberately designed to avoid quality checks.

He accused Hajela of intentionally doing this which in turn gave free hands to some officials for including doubtful citizens in the NRC list.

According to Dev Sarma, this can be seen as an anti-national act affecting national security. Hajela was also accused of violating a Supreme court order in 2018 which did not permit the NRC state coordinator to review the office verification of documents already completed for 24,89,745 people.

But the letter to CID had said that Hajela allowed the review exercise defying the top court directive.

To update the 1951 NRC in Assam, the statutory notification for starting the Supreme Court-monitored exercise was issued in December 2013.

The draft list was published in August 2019, excluding 19.06 lakh out of 3.3 crore applications for lack of adequate documents for establishing their Indian citizenship.

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