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

Tora Agarwala
National registry of citizens, NRC , NRC asaam, NRC list assam, NRC online, Hitesh dev, Debabrata Saikia, Assam news, india news, indian express news

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 on Wednesday told The Indian Express that there is “absolutely nothing to be worried about”, and that the data is safe.

He also said the process is under way to renew services contract with the IT firm looking after it.

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

On Tuesday, Leader of Opposition in state Assembly, Debabrata Saikia of the Congress, had written to Sarma and asked him to look into this “suspicious development.”

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

While Sarma said the data has been inaccessible since December 15, IT major Wipro, which looks after the online data, in an email statement said that “as a gesture of goodwill, Wipro continued to pay the hosting service fee until January-end, 2020” despite the contract not being renewed by the authorities after it expired in October 2019.

Wipro also said it is “willing to continue providing these services if the IT services agreement is renewed by the authorities”. The company did not respond to the question on the worth of the contract.

Sarma said contracts are renewed on need-basis.

He said, “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.”

Sarma added that he hopes it would be done “soon”, and that it is “nothing but purely a technical issue and had happened because of non-availability of cloud services”.

Explained

What is missing on the website

To check one’s (inclusion or exclusion) status, the user has to key in his/her Application Receipt Number on the official website — this information is not accessible now. While the official website (nrcassam.nic.in) seems to be in order, the tab to check one’s status redirects to an invalid page.

Wipro’s email mentioned that the company was appointed as the “System Integrator for NRC” in Assam in 2014 after a “rigorous tender process”, and was tasked with “providing the technical architecture and technology solutions for the project”.

The final NRC list excluded 19,06,657 names out of 3,30,27,661 applicants.

Sarma said “disappearance” of NRC data is because the previous NRC coordinator, Prateek Hajela, failed to renew the contract with Wipro.

The Indian Express reached out to Hajela, now posted in Bhopal, for his comments, but he did not respond.

Hajela was released from office on November 11, 2019. While Sarma was appointed on November 9, he joined office on December 24. Despite the contract expiring in October, the process to renew it started only this January.

A source associated with the NRC office said long-term contracts, such as the one with Wipro, are usually given a breathing period after expiry and rarely cut off without warning.

Apar Gupta, lawyer and executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, said: “It puts a big question mark on state capacity. This points towards the acute lack of state capacity to make sure that data is being reliably, safely and securely stored...”

Gupta said the development also “sheds light on the role of the private contractor”. He said, “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.”