There are high stakes riding with the exercise to update the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, a fact Chief Minister Sarbanda Sonowal has time and again reiterated before the Central government. Stuck in the verification phase with NRC officials going painstakingly over applicants’ legacy data and supporting documents, the exercise is also in dire needs of funds to keep going. The Assam CM recently had to give a gentle reminder to Union Home Minister Rajth Singh about the State government’s revised proposal of Rs 882 crore already submitted to the Centre. While Sonowal has been calling upon DCs and SPs of various districts to fast track NRC work, having promised in his I-Day speech to complete the exercise by next year, there are worrying developments likely to compromise the process. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) has now spoken up about the intimidation NRC officials are facing in several parts of the State domited by illegal migrants. Fearing for their physical safety, some NRC officials have been reportedly authorizing village headmen to write out ‘speaking orders’ and conduct other formalities related to NRC work, and then playing safe by merely appending their sigtures. In foreigner-infested areas, which NRC official will dare to venture out on verification work, unless accompanied by sufficient numbers of security personnel? So matters are already boiling down to what happens at the field level, in migrant settlements where officials can be induced upon or threatened. Add to this the efforts by some State government departments to pull back their officials from NRC work, as well as transfer of some other NRC officials on ground of promotion, despite court orders to the contrary. All this indicates how difficult it will be to expedite the exercise as it negotiates the crucial stage of readying the draft NRC.
n absolutely error-free NRC is not something the present Assam government can compromise with, considering the mischief earlier governments here allowed in electoral rolls. Just how easy it is for a foreigner to register himself as a voter in Assam was shown in 1996. In the assembly elections that year, Bangladeshi tiol Md Kamaluddin filed nomition for the Jamumukh seat, though he withdrew later. It later transpired that he had infiltrated into Assam in the early Eighties, married a local woman in gaon and fathered six children, was deported twice but returned soon enough on both occasions —and for good measure, even armed himself with a Pakistani passport during his stay here. His exploits caused Justice BK Sharma of Gauhati High Court to observe that ‘this can happen only in Assam’. However, little has changed since then, as proved again recently with the arrest of Bangladeshi jihadi Zahirul Islam in Cachar by a special team of West Bengal police. It turns out that hardcore Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) operative Zahirul maged to enroll himself as a voter in Assam in the 2014 electoral rolls. His me figures in the list of voters in Sarukhetri assembly constituency in Barpeta district. He did this with the help of a teacher in Arabic of a local high school; the latter prevailed upon another local resident to agree to be Zahirul’s ‘father’! Questions are being raised as to how the concerned booth level official and assistant returning officer incorporated Zahirul’s me in the electoral rolls without verifying his antecedents. The Barpeta district deputy commissioner has now instituted a magisterial level probe into the matter, but it exposes once again how utterly compromised our State administration has become when it comes to getting identity proofs. HSLC admit cards as birth certificates, land documents, voter photo-identity cards, ration and MGNREGA job cards — the illegal migrant only has to me it and the touts are there to procure it with official help. If such unsavory practices, which have long vitiated our electoral rolls, are allowed to make a mockery of the entire NRC exercise now, the problems for Assam will only get complicated in the coming days. The NDA government at the Centre, which had made much of a foreigner-free NRC before the assembly elections in this State, should now walk its talk. It should ensure funds and adequate security to the Assam government to satisfactorily complete this Supreme Court monitored exercise within the revised deadline.