Guwahati: As assumed, senior Indian Administrative Service officer Prateek Hajela, former State coordinator to National Register of Citizens (NRC), was approved by Assam government to proceed with the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) application with effect from 1 August 2023 under All India Services Rules 1958, even though with some conditions.
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The Assam-Meghalaya cadre IAS officer, who had completed his three-year inter-cadre deputation in Madhya Pradesh (from 13 November 2019 to 12 November 2022), applied for an early retirement after the MP government released him on 31 March 2023 to the parent cadre. Hajela finally got the approval (through order dated 31 July 2023), but he has to face consequences for ‘two criminal cases’ pending in connection with the NRC Assam updation.
The news was greeted with sensation as the NRC State coordinator (from 6 September 2013 to 11 November 2019) was facing no less than five official complaints before the State agencies for his alleged financial irregularities (to the tune of Rs 2.60 billion as indicated by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India) during the NRC updation process in Assam. One first information report (lodged by his immediate successor in NRC Assam office, Hitesh Devsarma) even accused Hajela of helping hundred thousands of illegal Bangladeshi migrants to get their names included in the NRC draft.
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There are confusions if all the FIRs against Hajela were duly registered. However, a public revealation by State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma is understood to have instructed the concerned department to register the cases against Hajela. Sarma, also in charge of State home portfolio, on 12 April stated that if Hajela wanted to take an early retirement he could do it. However, the saffron leader asserted that Hajela has to appear before the investigation team as and when summoned.
A recent FIR against Hajela highlighted the exploitation to 8000 contractual workers too, who were even denied legalised monthly salaries during the NRC updation process. Hajela was appointed to look after the massive exercise under direct monitoring of the Supreme Court of India engaging 55,000 government employees and also contractual data entry operators (DEOs). Now strong demands have been raised for the DEOs, so that they can get their outstanding dues (cumulative amount of which will be over Rs 1 billion) from the concerned agencies.
Also read | Assam complainant to re-approach court on NRC updation scam
The NRC authority spent a sum of Rs 16 billion crore in the five-year long (2014 to 2019) exercise where the system integrator (Wipro Limited) had the responsibility to supply DEOs, but it engaged one sub-contractor (Integrated System and Services, owned by Utpal Hazarika), which paid a DEO only Rs 5,500 (to 9,100) only. Shockingly, the amount is below the country’s basic minimum wages. Some DEOs approached the State labour commissioner and also hit the street demanding their dues but they continue to be deprived of their dues.
Months back, social media users named and shamed three Guwahati-based television scribes as beneficiaries of the NRC scam along with the bureaucrats. They lavishly praised Hajela as an outstanding officer and pronounced the NRC draft as the final one, even though it’s yet to be endorsed by the Registrar General of India. Nonetheless, the people believe that the DEOs must be compensated under the laws irrespective of the fate of NRC. Moreover, as the exercise was monitored by the apex court, it now becomes necessary for the sake of SC’s credibility too.
(Nava Thakuria is a senior Indian journalist who contributes to various media outlets including print and digital platforms of India and across the world)