It is now almost certain that the process to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam will not be completed even within its revised deadline, thanks to a State government determined to stonewall and sabotage it at every turn. That the exercise does not enjoy an iota of goodwill of the powers-be at Dispur came out loud and clear during the latest hearing on a PIL in the Supreme Court. This time the State government has argued that it is not possible to complete the exercise with the funds provided by the Centre, that only Rs 288 crores of the Rs 498 crores sought for has been released so far — but meanwhile, the requirement has gone up to Rs 660 crores. The apex court asked a straightforward question — how much additiol time will be needed to complete the NRC exercise? The State government hemmed and hawed, but maged to convey the impression that if the deadline is not relaxed, the exercise will have to be fast-forwarded. The Supreme Court then made it clear that preparing an error-free, correct NRC is the sole objective; this work must be completed in the ‘shortest possible time’. The court also directed the 25 thousand government officials and employees involved in NRC work, not to take up any other responsibility until the exercise is completed. But the apex court stopped short of revising the deadline again, which was what Dispur was waiting to hear. This is the same government that had issued a circular recently to Revenue officials, ordering them to give priority to other duties. The media exposed this move for what it was — an underhand ploy to obstruct and slow down the NRC work. The circular was hastily withdrawn, but its mischievous intent was understood down the ranks.
The lot of the State government employees assigned to NRC duty is unenviable, to say the least. They know they are carrying out a task the government has little interest in; rather, there are vested interests in Dispur hell-bent in derailing this exercise if it sticks to its mandate of listing bofide citizens and keeping out foreigners. When they have maged to get every electoral roll compromised with the mes of large numbers of illegal voters, why will these vested interests now allow a correct NRC to come to pass? The government employees involved in NRC work are almost being sidelined without any support, many a times left to fend for themselves with the plea of ‘no funds from the Centre’. They will now have to report to the State NRC coorditor, who in turn will report to the Registrar General of India (RGI). Meanwhile, the news has come of an NRC team being manhandled at a char in Chenga constituency lying within Barpeta district. As part of the ongoing house-to-house verification phase, the officials were said to have been verifying photographs and documents furnished with NRC application forms when they were thrashed and driven back. Such incidents are bound to trigger fears about law and order problems pinning down the NRC exercise in the coming days. If the police apparatus is not given clear directives to ensure security, officials on NRC duty will have a hard time venturing into sensitive areas where the writ of the administration hardly runs. Back in 2010, the NRC pilot projects at Barpeta and Chaygaon were greeted with violent protests, setting back the entire process as the government took its sweet time to ‘fine-tune’ the mechanism. It took repeated prodding by the Supreme Court before the State government at long last got around to begin the exercise in March this year. In October, the State government pleaded for more time from the Supreme Court to complete this ‘vital but difficult task’, and the court obliged. It extended by two months the earlier deadline of October 31 for publishing the draft NRC and January 1, 2016 for fil NRC, with the revised deadlines becoming January 1 and March 1 respectively. Though the apex court has refused to extend the deadline yet again this time around, there is now a strong likelihood that the exercise will not be completed before the assembly elections in April-May next year.