Nava J Thakuria
Guwahati: The complainant, whose case relating to National Register of Citizens (NRC) updation scam in Assam was not entertained by Kamrup (metropolitan) chief judicial magistrate’s court citing the reason that it lacks the jurisdiction to investigate the allegations or direct the police to file a first information report (FIR), decides to re-approach the court with a different jurisdiction. Luit Kumar Barman, a well known Assamese entrepreneur turned acclaimed film producer, approached the court with the plea to direct Paltan Bazar police station to register his FIR.
Barman, a visible social media user, sued the former NRC Assam coordinator Prateek Hajela (1995-batch IAS officer of Assam-Meghalaya cadre) along with the Wipro limited (functioned as the system integrator in the process) and Integrated System & Services (worked as a subcontractor and represented by proprietor Utpal Hazarika) for their roles in Rs 155 crores money laundering during the updation process (May 2014 to October 2019).
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The CJM court in its order on 18 May 2023 stated that it had ‘no jurisdiction to investigate the matter’, ‘no jurisdiction to direct production of the accused’ and ‘no jurisdiction to punish the accused as per law’. So prayers of the complainant were rejected, but it granted Barman the ‘liberty to approach the appropriate forum with jurisdiction to redress’ his grievance.
It also added that ‘there is no material on record to prove that a right in personam of the accused has been violated’ and hence Barman does not have a locus standi to file the case. The complainant introduced himself as a vigilant Indian citizen against misappropriation of public funds and the court terms the allegation in the nature of public interest litigation which the specific court ‘has no jurisdiction to try’.
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Barman in his complaint argued that he has the locus standi to file it as an Indian citizen pursuing social activities and remaining vigilant against corruption. He also cited the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report for the year ending on 31 March 2020. The highest national audit body in its report recommended penal actions against Hajela and Wipro, an acclaimed IT company of international repute. Hajela was appointed as NRC State coordinator to initiate the process under monitorship of the Supreme Court of India.
Hajela, without any due process of transparent tendering, offered the task of supplying temporary data entry operators (DEOs) to Wipro, which later engaged one sub-contractor illegally and paid the DEOs only Rs 5,500 to 9,100 per month (per person) during 2015-2019, whereas it was sanctioned Rs 14,500 to 17,500 every month for one DEO by the NRC authority. Barman claims 6000 temporary workers are yet to get their due amount under the provision of salaries as per the country’s minimum wages act.
The CAG report also stated that due to lack of proper planning during the NRC updation hundreds of software utilities were added in a haphazard manner to the core one. Asserting that highly secure and reliable software was necessary for the exercise, but no due process was followed. While developing the important software, a haphazard addition of over 200 software utilities to the primary one was done. The CAG finally stated that the intended objective of preparing an error-free NRC was not fulfilled, even though the government had to spend Rs 1,579 crore and around 50,000 Assam government servants were engaged in the process.
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The low salary to DEOs (when the SC was supposedly monitoring the exercise) was discussed in both mainstream media and digital outlets highlighting the State government’s daily minimum wages for skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers in various sectors. It was directed that even an unskilled worker can legally claim Rs 240 per day (read Rs 7,200 per month), where the skilled one should get minimum Rs 350 per day (Rs 10,500 per month) in Assam. Responsible individuals, while commenting over the matter, pointed out three television scribes as also being beneficiaries of money laundering in the NRC updation process. Even some were named and shamed on social media, those anchor-journalists have not reacted to the serious allegations.
Mentionable is that the NRC updation process began in 2014 with an initial project cost of around Rs 288 crore and was supposed to be completed by February 2015. But the timeline for the project went on lingering and the final draft was published on 31 August 2019. Because of the time overruns, the project cost escalated up to nearly Rs 1600 crore by 2022. Though claimed by Hajela the released NRC as the final one, it’s yet to be notified by the Registrar General of India.
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