Assam NRC data safe, says state coordinator as records go missing from site, experts question state capacity

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Wipro Limited says IT Services Contract was not renewed by the authorities upon its expiry in October 2019.

Shared News| February 12, 2020 1:33:10 pm
To check one’s (inclusion or exclusion) status, the user has to key in his/her Application Receipt Number (ARN) on the official website. It is this information that is not accessible right now. (File)

With data related to the updated National Register of Citizens (NRC) of Assam becoming inaccessible on the official website, NRC State Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma told indianexpress.com there was “absolutely nothing to be worried” and that the data is safe.

Calling it “just a technical issue”, Sarma confirmed that “the data has not been displayed since December 15 on the website”. This includes information pertaining to individuals included and excluded from the final NRC list, which was published on August 31, 2019.

The Union Home Ministry has also issued a clarification that the NRC data is safe and that the matter will be resolved soon.

The final NRC list excluded 19,06,657 names out of 3,30,27,661 applicants. To check one’s (inclusion or exclusion) status, the user has to key in his/her Application Receipt Number (ARN) on the official website. It is this information that is not accessible right now. While the official website (http://nrcassam.nic.in) seems to be in order, the tab to check one’s status redirects to an invalid page.

Sarma said the “disappearance” of NRC data — whose life online is backed by a contract with IT company Wipro — is because the previous NRC coordinator Prateek Hajela failed to renew the contract with Wipro. “The contract expired on October 19 — the data was available till December 15,” Sarma said.

Former state coordinator Hajela was released from office on November 11. While Sarma was appointed on November 9, he joined office on December 24. “We have now applied to Wipro for a renewal of contract. It is in process but I do not know how long it will take — the matter is in Wipro’s hands now,” he said, adding that he hoped it would be “soon” and that it was “nothing else but purely a technical issue and had happened because of non-availability of cloud services.” Sarma added that contracts are renewed on need-basis.

Leader of opposition Debabrata Saikia questioned NRC state coordinator Sarma through a letter on February 11, asking him to look into this “suspicious development.”

Apar Gupta, lawyer and Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), said: “It puts a big question mark on state capacity. This points towards the acute lack of state capacity to actually make sure that data is being reliably, safely and securely stored, and also made available in real time fashion for delivery of e-governance services.”

He added: “It even sheds light on the role of the private contractor who provided these services. It indicates how individual contracts are negotiated and how they do not have the ability or foresight in light of any kind of administrative change to ensure that the technical systems remain online during renewal processes. Usually contractors, prior to deactivating any essential service for non-payment of dues or non-renewal of contract, provide multiple notices or periods of extension — this should have been kept in mind especially for this service taking into account the sensitivity underlying this data and tremendous public anxiety its non-availability would cause.”

Wipro Ltd told indianexpress.com that the company was appointed as the “System Integrator for NRC” in Assam after a “rigorous tender process” and tasked with “providing the technical architecture and technology solutions for the project”. In an email statement, Wipro Limited wrote: “The IT Services Contract was not renewed by the authorities upon its expiry in October 2019. However, as a gesture of goodwill, Wipro continued to pay the hosting service fee until January-end, 2020. Wipro is willing to continue providing these services if the IT services Agreement is renewed by the authorities. The company does not have any further comments.”

Opposition leader Saikia in his letter, wrote: “It is a mystery that the online data should vanish all of a sudden, especially as the appeals process has not even started due to the go-slow attitude adopted by the NRC authority.”

The Supreme Court-mandated NRC exercise in Assam is five years in the making and seeks to make a list of bonafide Indian citizens living in the state of Assam. As per the Assam Accord — signed after a six-year-long agitation to expel “foreigners”— the cut-off date to be an Indian citizen in Assam in the midnight of March 24, 1971.

Those excluded from the final NRC list — that was published on August 31, 2019 — are meant to approach Foreigners’ Tribunals or the quasi-judicial courts which have the power to declare an individual ‘foreigner’ or ‘Indian.’ However, no progress has been made on that front since none of the excluded have not received their rejection slips — which state the grounds of their rejection — from the NRC authorities yet. Sarma said that there is some “pending work left” and the rejection slips will be issued at the “earliest.”

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