GUWAHATI/ NEW DELHI: A day after the NRC authority accepted non-renewal of its contract with Wipro on time as the cause for all data vanishing from official website, an RTI application was filed on Wednesday with the National Informatics Centre, seeking details of the pact with the IT firm.
Though NRC authority denied any wrong doing in all data going offline and put the blame of non-timely renewal to the earlier NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela, opposition Congress has alleged it as "malafide" and "deliberate" action.
While the Centre assured all that the data is safe and termed the data going offline as "technical issues", IT service provider Wipro said authorities concerned did not renew the services contract for the project after it expired.
Social media went berserk after the news broke with netizens strongly criticising the NRC Authority's "negligence" in handling the sensitive data, which contained the list of exclusion and inclusion of bonafide Indian citizens and were uploaded on its official website 'www.nrcassam.nic.in' after the final list was published on August 31, 2019.
Senior journalist-cum-RTI activist Saket Gokhale filed an RTI application to the NIC, the IT wing of the government, and made it public through his Twitter account. He sought a copy of the contract with Wipro regarding online hosting and storage of the official NRC list of Assam.
"Please provide name and details of the company used for cloud storage of the Assam NRC list along with the contract signed with it thereof," the RTI requested. Gokhale also sought all the relevant files pertaining to the contract renewal along with all official correspondence with Wipro and the cloud storage company.
In a separate tweet, the RTI activist questioned the NRC Authority's decision to host the mammoth data on a private cloud service when the government has its own such platform.
More:— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) February 12, 2020
What's even murkier is that govt-owned NIC has its own cloud service called Meghraj.
Why the hell was the Assam NRC data stored on the Amazon AWS cloud when a domestic govt-owned option was freely available? pic.twitter.com/rQCN05OaBm
He shared a screenshot from Wipro's official website that talks about putting in place a "state-of-the-art fluid data center at Guwahati". He questioned on the micro blogging site: "How on earth, then, did this data get on to a cloud service where it went offline? Who authorized this - the NIC or the Assam Govt.?"
Meanwhile, a spokesperson of the Union Home Ministry on Wednesday clarified that the NRC data in Assam is safe even though some technical issues were visible and that will be resolved soon.
Reacting to the development, IT major Wipro said: "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."
The Assam NRC data suddenly vanishing from the website (& the lack of data security) is incredibly shady.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) February 12, 2020
I've filed an RTI with the NIC specifically asking about details of the contract with Wipro, name of the cloud service provider, & all contracts signed for hosting this. pic.twitter.com/3JeVtvdx0S
Talking exclusively to PTI, NRC State Coordinator Hitesh Dev Sarma accepted that the data have been made offline, but refuted the allegation of any "malafide" intent in it. "This was not renewed by the earlier Coordinator. So, the data got offline from December 15 after it was suspended by Wipro. I assumed charge on December 24," Sarma said.
He also informed that the state coordination committee has discussed the issue in its meeting on January 30 and wrote to the Wipro during the first week of February. "Once Wipro makes the data live, it will be available for the public. We hope that people will be able to access it in the next 2-3 days," Sarma said.
Leader of the Opposition in Assam Assembly Debabrata Saikia wrote to the Registrar General of India and requested him to look into the matter urgently. "It is a mystery as to why 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. There is, therefore, ample scope to suspect that the disappearance of online data is a malafide act," he said.
Criticising strongly, former Congress MP Sushmita Dev tweeted, "Till today the @BJP4Assam government has not stated officially whether the Assam NRC published on 31 Aug 2019 is VALID or NOT. How convenient! Now the plot thickens, the data has vanished. Did people spend money, time & energy for NRC in vain?"
Economist Rupa Subramanya commented, "If you assume this is incompetence, you're being naive. It's sinister as there's a lot to be gained by having a "cloud over this data."
Linking the data going offline to criticism over less number of exclusions in the NRC, advocate Aman Wadud said that if 70 lakh were excluded instead of "only" 19 lakhs from NRC, "they would have spent 16000 crores to secure it".
If 70 lakhs were excluded instead of "only" 19 lakhs from NRC, they would have spent 16000 crores to secure it.— Aman Wadud (@AmanWadud) February 12, 2020
NRC annihilated decade of lies about illegal migration to Assam, there are reasons why they didn't even renew contract on time despite SC direction to secure data
"After 5 years long exercise, spending 1600 crores tax payers money, harassing people unimaginably, NRC authority didn't renew subscription with Wipro for cloud storage on time? This is not negligence, this is deliberate, this is criminal, this is contempt," Wadud said in another tweet.
Attacking the Centre's plan to have NRC across the country, Karnataka Congress MLA Priyanka M Kharge tweeted: "Brilliant! Manyavar is unable to think NRC through in Assam, but wants to implement this across India!" Twitterati Jude David said, "Technical issue(?) or better Sense or like Vikas or like Rafael papers."
The final NRC was published by excluding 19,06,657 persons. A total of 3,11,21,004 names were included out of 3,30,27,661 applicants.