For Assam, this New Year begins with a bang in more ways than one. On Day 1 of 2018, the people will be anxiously seeking their mes in the draft tiol Register of Citizens (NRC). A 12 year journey will thus end with a ‘partial’ NRC, which speaks volumes of how fraught the process has been. It will be no exaggeration to say that Assam has been a laboratory for some crucial tinkering in matters relating to citizenship, immigrants and refugees that are relevant for the tion as a whole. Sadly, such tinkering by the political class has gone mostly against the interests of indigenous people. Citizenship laws have been tweaked by governments at the Centre to make citizens out of foreigners coming to the country as late as 2004. Had the Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government succeeded in getting its way, it would have incorporated the 2014 electoral rolls into NRC. If the Congress sympathies clearly lay with its Muslim Bangladeshi votebank, the BJP has made no secret of its agenda to lock up Hindu Bangladeshi votes by amending the law to grant them citizenship. As it is, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 could be tabled in Parliament by the first half of 2018. The NDA government at the Centre would have been happy with a draft NRC deadline pushed to July 2018, pleading law and order concerns, but the Supreme Court would have none of it. Because the mes of large numbers of applicants, including those furnishing panchayat documents, are being left out of draft NRC at this stage, it is a partial document. The State government and NRC authority meanwhile have been trying to allay fears by repeatedly assuring that those left out will get chances to file claims and include their mes in NRC in subsequent stages. Additiol Central forces and massive security bandobast across the State reflect Dispur’s concerns over potential unrest, but the situation could also be used by mischievous quarters to further their gameplans.
It remains to be seen how panchayat documents of around 29 lakh applicants are verified by ensuring that the issuing authority was not compromised. Equally sensitive could be significant numbers of tribals failing to find their mes in NRC, since lack of documentation has long bedevilled ethnic people in the State. It being certain that the Assam government machinery will be stretched to its limits in dealing with the draft NRC publication fallout and conducting the next phases of the massive exercise — Aadhaar card rollout in the State is likely to take a backseat, with the Supreme Court ruling that no private party can be entrusted with Aadhaar work. Dispur will have to find ways to get this project going too, else people in the State will face more hassles as the 12 digit Aadhaar number gets mandatorily linked to bank accounts, PAN cards, mobile SIMs, insurance policies, pensions and welfare schemes. Assam and a few States got by with exemptions in 2017, but the going will get very tough for any holdouts in 2018. An issue that could explode early in the New Year is how the ga framework agreement pans out, with the State going to assembly polls in February-March. In case the contours of the pact are filly out in public domain, it will be anxiously followed in Assam, Manipur and Aruchal Pradesh to find out whether these States have been handed a raw deal (despite Central assurances). In 2017, the rains began playing havoc in Assam from March onwards. Is the State government better prepared this year, particularly in terms of embankment repair and anti-erosion measures? The dredging of Brahmaputra bed is slated to begin from January 2018, while dredging works for Barak will be completed by July. These projects in the New Year will mark a watershed in efforts to control these two lifelines of the State. Recently, the Centre also announced Rs 1,250 crore for developing 8 river termils and also Rs 1 lakh crore for building new highways in the State. If these projects remain on track, year 2018 could add much to the roadway and waterway infrastructure of Assam.
To the credit of the Sarbada Sonowal-led government, its drive against graft netted several corrupt officials last year. Following the APSC cash-for-job scam, the arrest of 27 civil service officials have sent out a much awaited for strong message. Hopefully, this drive will be continued and the APSC entirely overhauled in 2018, so that the State gets clean officials to man its administration. While the CM’s Vigilance Cell has been strengthened, government departments need to be pro-active in granting sanction for prosecution of tainted officials. The drive against encroachment on forest, tribal and xatra lands should also not lose momentum in the New Year, despite land grabbers moving court; in this context, the government will be well served with a proper rehabilitation policy for evicted people. The Gunotsav phase I & II results last year (with phase III scheduled this January) showed the need for building 30,000 classrooms in the State, while exposing the malaise of thousands of government-run schools running with single teacher. The skill development and employment generation thrusts of the NDA government have hardly got off the ground in Assam. The fund crunch in one State department after another, including MLA local development funds, hurt Assam much last year. If things don’t improve this year, the BJP-led dispensation in Dispur will struggle to defend its record before the people when general elections come around in 2019.