D. N. Bezboruah
During the last two months or so, I have been at some pains to sound the warning that there are bound to be attempts to sabotage the entire exercise of updating the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951. It did not require any great intelligence to arrive at this conclusion. After all, the exercise of updating the NRC had already been sabotaged by none other than the Chief Minister of Assam who had done everything possible to keep postponing the commencement of the task. As a result, the task that was to have been completed by 2007 did not even get started by that date. And had the Supreme Court not taken a hand in the matter, it would never have got started at all. This was quite understandable because the very notion of any updating of the NRC was athema to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi for whom electoral success at any cost and with the help of the illegal votes of alien migrants was far more important than the performance of his government. So even when the Supreme Court turned the updating of the NRC into an inescapable fait accompli, he did not cease in his efforts to sabotage the entire exercise even though he also kept taking credit for the NRC updating. And that is what led me to keep insisting that the task of updating of the NRC would be sabotaged. And now that the first phase of task of updating the NRC has been completed and we are into the more important second phase of verification of the entries, there are very clear and visible acts of sabotage. Let me take up just one of them.
On October 30, 2015, P.K.Tiwari, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of Assam, Revenue and Disaster Magement Department, addressed a letter (RLR 194/2015/1) to all deputy commissioners and SDOs (Civil) (except of BTAD and Autonomous Hill Districts) on the subject of Winter Tour 2015-16. His letter was resurrecting an outdated practice introduced by the British in 1937 in the form of three annual tours—summer tours, autumn tours and winter tours—for supervisory kanungos (SKs) and lot mandals (LMs or surveyors) for village visit programmes. As part of Mr Tiwari’s resurrected programme, they were required to spend “three clear days in a village and definitely not less than two days if the number of villages is more than ten”. Without going into the details of the three-page letter and the two-page annexure, it is enough to point out that the proposed winter tour for the year 2015-16 alone was a clear way of ensuring that no circle officer, lot mandal or SK (key personnel for the important work of updating the NRC) would be available for any NRC work for at least two whole months. Not content with this, P.K.Tiwari even addressed another letter (No. C&S/PKT/RDM/01/2015/19 dated October 29, 2015 to all deputy commissioners and SDOs (Civil) on the subject of “Filing of MIS data”. This is what the letter has to say: “Please find attached the Pendency Report against each module of MIS and instruct all concerned to ensure that all the formats are fully filled by 31st October, 2015. // You are further requested to direct the Treasury Officer not to entertain the salary bill of the C.Os/SROs in the month of October, 2015 who have not completed the task by the revised deadline.// In case you are faced with any difficulty in filling up the data, please share it with us on email@example.com.” Even if one were to ignore the flaws of language (especially in respect of the failure to use the plural), it is difficult to ignore the meanness in the communication. Here is a commissioner mean enough to ask deputy commissioners to deprive officials of their salaries for failing to do their duties within the set time-frame. It is reasoble to ask Mr P. K. Tiwari how many times before this he has directed deputy commissioners to withhold salaries of government officials for failing to do their duties. He must be aware that it is the duty of the Revenue Department to vacate illegal possession of government land by encroachers. How many hectares of government land has the Revenue Department cleared of encroachers during the last three decades? What about the encroachment of the Kaziranga tiol Park (KNP) by foreign tiols? Has the Revenue Department got the KNP cleared of encroachers? What about the thousands of hectares of government land in tribal belts encroached by foreign tiols? How much of it has the Revenue Department maged to get back? What about the 4,000 bighas of sattra land under illegal occupation of foreign tiols? Has the Revenue Department maged to reclaim even one bigha of such land from the clutches of the encroachers despite the directive of the Supreme Court? These responsibilities rate far higher priorities than an isolated winter tour that the Commissioner and Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Magement suddenly remembered to conduct in 2015-16 alone after a lapse of many years. Has any former commissioner of the Revenue Department ever requested deputy commissioners on any earlier occasion to withhold salaries of Revenue Department officials for having failed to do their duty? This is a legitimate question that Mr Tiwari must answer with complete honesty. Most officers agree that the summer, autumn and winter tours, in terms of the Assam Land Records Manual (ALRM), 1937 have become redundant and irrelevant today since people are not required to travel long distances to reach Revenue offices for day-to-day work. Besides, the communication network has been developed well enough to the advantage of the people and officials. The only obvious reason why such orders are issued at a time when the important verification work of the NRC update exercise needs to be completed within a tight time-frame is to ensure that the verification work cannot be completed in time without the help of Revenue Department officials and staff, and if they can be kept busy with other less important work, the NRC updating work will get completely derailed. It is with the same sinister objective that Mr Tiwari also made a roster of “Duties of Circle Officers other then (sic) Revenue duties” whereby he makes them chairmen/member secretaries/CEOs of as many as 24 bodies and committees so that they will have no time for any NRC update work. Strangely enough, NRC update work does not figure in this roster though he cannot be uware of the fact that the Supreme Court had sought the services of such officers and staff under the provision of Article 144 of the Indian Constitution. And this is what Article 144 has to say: “All authorities, civil and judicial, in the territory of India shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.” These actions of Mr P.K.Tiwari, in his capacity as Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of Assam, Revenue & Disaster Magement Department, constitute clear acts of sabotage against the highly important work of updating the NRC, regardless of what some senior bureaucrats and political executives may say to the contrary. The colour of sabotage stands out bold and clear. Has Mr Tiwari been made to forget that the people are the real rulers in a democracy and that their interest comes before anything else? But apart from the attempted sabotage of the NRC update, there is also the issue of contempt of court. Mr Tiwari cannot be uware of the thrust of the Supreme Court’s directive in respect of the updating of the NRC. To be going against the directives of the Supreme Court (mely, to ensure a correct and reliable updating of the NRC in the time specified for the job) is clearly an act in contempt of the Supreme Court’s directives. Fortutely, we are now able to talk of Mr Tiwari’s act of sabotage as his “attempted sabotage” because a subsequent order of Mr Subhas Das, Additiol Chief Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Magement Department has instructed that Mr Tiwari’s instructions regarding the winter tour of Revenue Department officers and staff should be held in abeyance. This is what the WT/fax message No. RLR. 90/2014/PT/13 dated 16th November 2015 sent by him to all deputy commissioners says: “The attention of the State Government in Revenue and Disaster Magement Department has been drawn to the news item published in various newspapers regarding updation of tiol Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Revenue circle officers have been appointed as circle registrar of citizen registration. It is clarified that the work of updation of NRC should receive topmost priority than all other revenue works which are required to be performed by the Depcoms, SDO (Civil) and Revenue circle officers and other land records staff. It is also decided to keep the instructions issued vide No. C&S/PKT/RDM/01/2015/18 dated 29th October 2015 and No. RLR.194/2015/18 dated 30th October 2015 in abeyance till completion of the work related to updation of NRC. All depcoms, SDO (Civil) and the Revenue circle officers are to note that the udpation of NRC work is as per direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and all officers are required to assist the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India as per Article 144 of the Constitution of India. Depcoms to issue necessary instructions to all circle officers.” This effectively undoes the sabotage of the NRC updating that Mr Tiwari was planning. But the colour of Mr Tiwari’s attempted sabotage and his perfidy are there for all the people of Assam to see and talk about.
In this connection, one cannot help wondering whether the D.O. letter of Dr C. Chandramouli, Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, dated 15th September and addressed to Shri Vinod Kumar Pipersenia on the subject of the updating of the NRC has received the serious attention it deserved. I quote the first three pertinent paragraphs of it. “This is in connection with the ongoing updation of the tiol Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951 in the State of Assam. As you are aware, the receipt of applications has been completed and the verification of documents has commenced. It is anticipated that around 6 crore documents received from approximately 68 lakh households have to be verified within a short period. This would require the cooperation from all the concerned officials in the State and from other States. I request you to kindly issue instructions to all the concerned officials within the State of Assam to give the activity the utmost priority. // 2. In this connection I would like to draw your kind attention to Rule 5 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of tiol Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 and to the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India wherein it has been instructed and that any official found lax in this activity should be proceeded against. I request you to bring these to the attention of all the officials concerned. // 3. As this is a time bound exercise and compliance is being monitored by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, I request you to kindly ensure that officials involved in this activity are not disturbed during this period unless it is a matter of grave necessity. I would also request to nomite senior officials of the Government of Assam to regularly monitor the work and ensure the smooth conduct of the exercise.” There is room for speculation that not all the senior bureaucrats and officers of the Assam government were made aware of the contents of this letter. After all, had Mr Pramod K. Tiwari read the first three paragraphs of the letter he should have thought several times before venturing to go against the categorical directives of the Supreme Court.
Mr Subhas Das’s latest order undoing the sabotage of the NRC updating planned by Mr Tiwari will be hailed by one and all. It saves people the trouble of appealing to the Supreme Court to take suo moto action against the directives of Mr Tiwari to all Revenue officials and staff engaged in the important work of updating the NRC and his directive to all deputy commissioners and SDOs (Civil) to get the salary bills of all COs and SROs who failed to complete the task allotted by them to be held up. However, it would be ive to imagine that attempts at delaying, sabotaging and derailing the exercise of updating the NRC will cease with this exposé. These diabolic attempts will go on. In fact, some delay and some harm has already been done by Mr Tiwari’s attempted dabotage. It is, therefore, our humble appeal to the Supreme Court that it should issue a directive that the Assembly election of 2016 shall not be held until a month or two after the satisfactory updating of the NRC. If it becomes necessary even to have a brief spell of President’s rule to implement such a plan, there should be no hesitation to do so. We believe that sabotaging the updating of the NRC will become quite pointless if the elections are held only after the satisfactory completion of the NRC update. That is why making the satisfactory updating of the NRC a precondition to the holding of Assembly elections seems to make good sense.
People like Mr S.K.Tiwari, who are fairly senior in the IAS, should realize that an exercise like the updating of the NRC involves huge outlays of public money. The eventual cost of updating the NRC is going to exceed Rs 500 crore. No one—absolutely no one—has the right to waste such a huge sum of public money by sabotaging a programme that the Supreme Court has instructed to be completed expeditiously. Even the political executives that Mr Tiwari might be trying to appease with his mischievous attempt at sabotage will not compensate the loss of Rs 500 crore of public money even if they might have the means to do so. The Supreme Court ought to come down heavily on smart alec bureaucrats who attempt to play games of sabotage against the people.