CAG warns of data tampering in the Assam NRC

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India is concerned about the “risk of data tampering” in the updating of Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). The auditor has blamed this anomaly on “improper” software development related to data capture and correction during the citizenship document update process.

The CAG stated in a report tabled in the Assam Assembly on Saturday that a highly secure and reliable software was required to be developed for the NRC updation exercise, but during the audit, “lack of proper planning in this regard” came to the fore.

The updated final NRC, which validates bonafide Indian citizens of Assam, was released on August 31, 2019, with total of 3,11,21,004 names included out of 3,30,27,661 applicants, though it is yet to be notified. The CAG submitted a report for the year ended in 2020, on the last day of the Winter Session of the Assam Assembly on Saturday.

According to the report, the CAG stated that 215 software utilities were added “haphazardly” to the core software. It was done “without following the proper process of either software development or vendor selection through eligibility assessment following a national tendering,” according to the report.

“Haphazard development of software and utilities for NRC data capture and correction posed the risk of data tampering, without leaving any audit trail. The audit trail “could have ensured accountability for the accuracy of NRC data,” according to the CAG report. It maintained that the goal of preparing a valid, error-free NRC had not been met, despite the huge cost to the state budget.

According to the report, there were irregularities in the use of funds, including excessive and illegal payments to vendors. The CAG report on the compliance audit of “logistical arrangements for NRC updation project in Assam” recommended that erring authorities be held accountable for financial irregularities and that M/s Wipro Limited, the system integrator, be penalised for violating the Minimum Wage Act.

In Assam, the NRC was updated under the supervision of a Supreme Court bench. The CAG report maintained that the goal of preparing a valid, error-free NRC had not been met, despite the enormous cost to the State exchequer.

It was noted that the initial project cost was estimated at Rs 288.18 crore when the NRC update process began in December 2014, with a completion deadline of February 2015. However, the final draught of the document was published in August 2019, and the project cost increased to Rs 1,602.66 crore (an expenditure of Rs 1,579.78 crore was reported), according to the CAG report.

A test check of records by audit revealed “various irregularities in the utilisation of funds, including excess and inadmissible payment to vendors,” according to the report. The report suggested assigning blame and taking action against the State Coordinator of National Registration (SCNR) for excessive, irregular, and inadmissible payments.

To carry out the NRC update, the commissioner and secretary, the political department, and the Government of Assam were designated as the SCNR. The CAG recommended penal action against the system integrator after discovering non-compliance with the Minimum Wage Act in M/s Wipro Limited’s payment to operators during its audit.

“Accountability of the SCNR, as a principal employer, should also be fixed for not ensuring compliance with the MW Act,” the report added. Assam, which had faced an influx of people from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only State having an NRC which was first prepared in 1951. Risk of data tampering in Assam’s NRC updation process: CAG report.

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