Assam’s struggle with influx of illegal immigrants is not new. While the Assam Accord decided March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for immigrants eligible for citizenship of India, for many years the state government could not find a viable method to create a data base of people who had lived in Assam before the cut-off date. Its attempt to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in 2010 was mired in controversies and finally had to be stopped. Finally, technology showed the way and the government decided to digitise all the legacy data of NRC 1951 and electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971, in order to help people trace their ancestors’ details and claim their citizenship.
“At this point of time, all the data related to electoral rolls of 1971 and NRC of 1951 have been digitised and people have started claiming their citizenship. During this entire process, 2 crore records from 27,000 villages were scanned and digitised and so far, 14 million legacy data have been delivered and 6.8 million family trees have been generated based on these data,” said Abhijit Bhuyan, managing director, Bohniman Systems, an IT solutions and consulting firm based in Guwahati which digitised the entire legacy data for the state government.
For Bohniman Systems, collecting all the information was a tough task because data were scattered across the state. In 1951, there were eight districts and today there are 27 districts in Assam. Over the years, people have shifted from one town to another, some have moved in from other states, and district borders have been re-drawn. The map of the state itself have been redrawn again and again as several north-eastern states were carved out of it over the years. As a result, data had to be collected from different places and presented on a single platform, so that people did not have to run around to find their details.
“All the documents were in the custody of the superintendent of police of each district. The documents were very old and fragile. Regular scan was not possible as it could have damaged the documents itself,” said Bhuyan.
Bohniman, therefore, created a large team and started scanning by taking pictures of the documents. “We scanned close to 6,025,000 documents,” he said.
Interestingly, the NRC 1951 is a hand-written document in Assamese language and most citizens today are more comfortable with English rather than Assamese; so after digitisation, the documents were translated into English. Also, to solve the issue of different spellings of same names, a software with a phonetic capability that can recognised similar sound names was added into the system.
You might also want to see this:
Bhuyan said, “We not only scanned, digitised and created software to search the documents but we linked each and every document in the legacy data base with the original images to ensure data authenticity. Now people have all the data at one platform, they can look for their descendants/ascendants and can also view the original image either on internet or by visiting the 2,500 NRC Seva Kendras spread across the state.”
According to government officials, the current NRC has been fully digitised and people have applied for the inclusion of their names in the new NRC which is likely to be published by December 2017. “We found that 95% of the population have given the reference of their ancestor through the legacy portal,” said Bhuyan, adding that the portal has helped citizens in finding their data easily. “Had they been forced to follow the manual process of reaching out block by block, this could have created huge chaos,” he added.