Skip to main content

Multi-crore NRC updation scam? Awaited: Assam media's self-cleaning mechanism

By Nava Thakuria 
If some editor-journalists are allegedly involved in a financial scam, shouldn't the people get an opportunity to identify them? As the mainstream newspapers and news channels of Assam are avoiding the issue in their coverage, how come the actual picture will come to the public domain? If the mainstream media outlets intentionally kill the news, reasons best known to the editors, should the social media users take a lead?
By now a number of senior journalists (with experience in print journalism for many decades) have highlighted the issue in social media. Their message is loud and clear- identify the corrupt television journalists who grabbed a huge amount of money which is actually meant for thousands of Assamese professionals. It all began when a second first information report (FIR) was filed by the outgoing State coordinator of National Register of Citizens (NRC) against his predecessor alleging corruption and money laundering while updating the 1951 NRC in Assam.
NRC State coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma, who is retiring on 31 July next, lodged the FIR with the Assam government’s vigilance and anti-corruption wing accusing Prateek Hajela, who earlier served as the State NRC coordinator. Hajela, an Indian Administrative Services officer- presently serving Madhya Pradesh government- is an Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi graduate and cleared IAS in 1995 (Assam-Meghalaya cadre). He was appointed by the Tarun Gogoi government in 2013 as the State NRC coordinator following an order of the Supreme Court of India.
Dev Sarma, also an IAS officer, claims in his complaint that the engaged system integrator (Wipro Limited) with other persons indulged in corruption while updating the 1951 NRC in Assam, the process began in 2014 under supervision of the country's apex court. In his complaint on 13 June 2022, Dev Sarma asserted that a huge financial mismanagement had taken place during Hajela’s tenure as the NRC head. For conducting the NRC updation process, Wipro (system integrator) was given the task of supplying data entry operators (DEOs).
It was not permitted to subcontract any activities related to system design & development, deployment and enhancement of NRC software solution, data centre operation, etc. But Wipro engaged sub-contractors for providing data entry operators without any prior approval from the appropriate authority. From the office record, it was found that the then State coordinator was aware of the fact that the sub-contractors were being used to gather DEOs, though he did not officially approve the particular proposal, said Dev Sarma in his complaint.
The Wipro was paid Rupees 14,500 to 17,500 per month per DEO (by the NRC authority), but ‘the DEOs got only Rs 5,500 to 9,100 per month’ during the years (2015 to 2019), added Dev Sarma asserting that the DEOs were denied even the least amount as per the country’s minimum wage act. Some DEOs even came to the streets demanding their due amounts. They claimed that out of 7000 young workers, a large number of DEOs were deprived of their money, where the entire NRC updation process in Assam cost Rs 1,600 crore which was paid by the government authority.
The DEOs also approached the State labour commissioner office with demands for their legal and regular payments. They also suspected some non-existent DEOs, who were also shown as paid. A reliable source in the State NRC office, informed that at least three editor-journalists of Assamese satellite news channels were also beneficiaries to the financial irregularities. 
Those media persons took sub-contracts to supply DEOs and got a sizable percentage of money. It is understood that the large volume of money, meant for DEOs, were fraudulently grabbed by those television anchor-journalists. Needless to mention that, during the period of NRC updating process, those television presenters shamelessly projected Hajela as a hero.
Social media is speculating that top journalists are beneficiaries of NRC updation scam, why aren't concerned sections clarifying stand?
Accountant General of Assam in a provisional audit report observed that ‘the difference of margin ranged from 45.59 to 64.27 percent was exorbitant and audit assessed that undue benefit of Rs 155.83 crore was allowed to SI/labour contractor after allowing 10 percent reasonable profit margin to the contractor’. Describing the undue benefit to the tune of Rs 155.83 crore, Dev Sarma asserted in his FIR that it’s reasonable to suspect that kickbacks and money laundering must have occurred in the process.
The provisional audit report also identified an ‘avoidable expenditure to the tune of Rs 10.73 crore’ in connection with the engagement of third-party monitoring consultants. As per the amended delegation of financial power rules, for the expenditure of more than Rs five crore, the then State coordinator should have obtained an approval from the empowered committee, headed by the chief secretary, or from the Registrar General of India. But the then State coordinator engaged the consultants without taking approval from the concerned authority, added it.
Citing the same audit report, where it observed that ‘entire expenditure of Rs 10.73 crore made against the engagement of consultants was unjustified and avoidable which resulted in extra burden to the government exchequer and undue benefit to the SI (Wipro) to that extent’, Dev Sarma claimed that a large volume of government money was siphoned off in a fraudulent manner. Now will it be possible to identify those scamster editors? If one trusts in Dev Sarma, it’s yes. He mentioned that one Proloy Seal worked as a middleman in the entire process.
Seal was neither an employee of the State coordinator’s office nor a contractor engaged by it. But his presence was always seen in the office. In reality he was the key person in managing all the kickbacks, said Dev Sarma. He argued that a detailed investigation into the transactions and accounts/balance sheets of the concerned persons would prove the money laundering and finally it would help in identifying corrupt individuals including those television editors. However the case must be officially registered to bring all those guilty individuals under the purview of laws.
For the last few weeks it has been ignored by the concerned authority seemingly for the oppositions raised by a powerful lobby (of bureaucrats!). Question arises, why has the lobby been working against the move with an aim to safeguard anyone engaged in corruption? Should not the people of Assam (also the entire nation) enjoy their rights to get a true picture about the financial irregularities engineered during the NRC updation process in the State?
Moreover, while the social media outlets are pouring the speculation terming many editor-journalists (based in Guwahati) as beneficiaries of the multi-crore rupees NRC updation scam, should not it become the responsibility of the concerned section to clarify its stand? 
Why not the so-called celebrity editor-journalists (including the news channel proprietors) come together to declare publicly that nobody from their organisations were involved with the specific financial irregularities? If involved, that would be his/her responsibility to defend in the concerned platforms. It’s really surprising, what more they are waiting for!
---
The author is a Guwahati-based journalist, who writes for various media outlets based in different parts of the globe

Comments

TRENDING

Vaccine nationalism? Covaxin isn't safe either, perhaps it's worse: Experts

By Rajiv Shah  I was a little awestruck: The news had already spread that Astrazeneca – whose Indian variant Covishield was delivered to nearly 80% of Indian vaccine recipients during the Covid-19 era – has been withdrawn by the manufacturers following the admission by its UK pharma giant that its Covid-19 vector-based vaccine in “rare” instances cause TTS, or “thrombocytopenia thrombosis syndrome”, which lead to the blood to clump and form clots. The vaccine reportedly led to at least 81 deaths in the UK.

'Scientifically flawed': 22 examples of the failure of vaccine passports

By Vratesh Srivastava*   Vaccine passports were introduced in late 2021 in a number of places across the world, with the primary objective of curtailing community spread and inducing "vaccine hesitant" people to get vaccinated, ostensibly to ensure herd immunity. The case for vaccine passports was scientifically flawed and ethically questionable.

'Misleading' ads: Are our celebrities and public figures acting responsibly?

By Deepika* It is imperative for celebrities and public figures to act responsibly while endorsing a consumer product, the Supreme Court said as it recently clamped down on misleading advertisements.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Palm oil industry 'deceptively using geenwashing' to market products

By Athena*  Corporate hypocrisy is a masterclass in manipulation that mostly remains undetected by consumers and citizens. Companies often boast about their environmental and social responsibilities. Yet their actions betray these promises, creating a chasm between their public image and the grim on-the-ground reality. This duplicity and severely erodes public trust and undermines the strong foundations of our society.

US 'frustrated' with India’s discomfort: Maritime exercise in South China Sea

By Vijay Prashad*  In early April 2024, the navies of four countries -- Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States -- held a maritime exercise in the South China Sea. Australia’s Warramunga, Japan’s Akebono, the Philippines’ Antonio Luna, and the United States’ Mobile worked together in these waters to strengthen their joint abilities and -- as they said in a joint statement  -- to “uphold the right to freedom of navigation and overflight and respect for maritime rights under international law.” 

No compensation to family, reluctance to file FIR: Manual scavengers' death

By Arun Khote, Sanjeev Kumar*  Recently, there have been four instances of horrifying deaths of sewer/septic tank workers in Uttar Pradesh. On 2 May, 2024, Shobran Yadav, 56, and his son Sushil Yadav, 28, died from suffocation while cleaning a sewer line in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area. In another incident on 3 May 2024, two workers Nooni Mandal, 36 and Kokan Mandal aka Tapan Mandal, 40 were killed while cleaning the septic tank in a house in Noida, Sector 26. The two workers were residents of Malda district of West Bengal and lived in the slum area of Noida Sector 9. 

India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah  Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.

'Fake encounter': 12 Adivasis killed being dubbed Maoists, says FACAM

Counterview Desk   The civil rights network* Forum Against Corporatization and Militarization (FACAM), even as condemn what it has called "fake encounter" of 12 Adivasi villagers in Gangaloor, has taken strong exception to they being presented by the authorities as Maoists.