The task of creating a digitised database of over thirty million people -the backbone for the much-awaited National Register of Citizens (NRC) - was no mean feat, but a Guwahati-based IT company has accomplished the mission in stipulated time with its software solutions.
Assam is the first Indian state where the NRC is being updated after 1951 with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date to include the names of genuine Indian citizens.
The first draft of the ongoing NRC process was released on the midnight of December 31, 2017 and it comprised 19 million names out of the total application of 32.9 million.
The final draft is scheduled for release on Monday.
An exercise of this magnitude for identifying the genuine Indian citizens in Assam, under the supervision of the Supreme Court, was a mammoth task, said Abhijit Bhuyan, the managing director (MD) of IT firm
"The challenges were daunting with myriad problems along the way during the last three-and-a-half years, beginning from September 2014, but we managed to create the database, which formed the basis of NRC," Bhuyan said..
Over 30 million people, almost 95 per cent population of Assam, used "legacy data" while applying for the current NRC, he said.
The legacy data are a combination of the 1951 NRC and electoral rolls of Assam from 1951 till March 24, 1971
"Each of these data sets was given a unique code. These unique legacy data code has also become the base for family tree, as it accounted for three crore people and almost 6.5 million families," she explained.
The NRC Seva Kendras (NSKs) delivered 7.5 million Legacy Data Code (LDC) while 6.9 million LDCs were delivered online, he said.
"The need to create a searchable legacy database was first felt during the pilot NRC process in 2010. The entire process was, however, derailed due to non-availability of legacy data in a comprehendible format," he said.
After the NRC authorities, who had called for tenders, accorded the work of digitization to Bohniman systems, the IT team set out to work with great zeal, Bhuyan said.
"The professionals, however, faced the initial challenge of collecting legacy data of 1951 NRC (handwritten) and electoral role (printed and handwritten) between 1951 NRC and March 24, 1971, which were in the lockers of the offices of deputy commissioner and district superintendent," he said.
In 1951, there were only eight districts in Assam, which increased to 27 by 2014. At present there are 33 districts.
People have migrated over the years and it would have been very difficult for them to go search for certified copies of their legacy data in their places of origin, the MD stated.
"Even if people knew their origin, mapping the original eight districts to the current day 27 or 33 districts would not have been possible. The Bohniman systems team had to create multiple filtering options for zone-wise search and all legacy data were mapped with the present districts," he said.
The second challenge was to translate the legacy data from Assamese and Bengali to English.
"We developed a software to transliterate these Assamese and Bengali data to English. The entire database was then made available in all three languages," Bhuyan said.
The third challenge was that most of the people were not sure about the spellings of their forefathers' names.
"A phonetic-based search engine was designed by us to search these legacy records that will display all similar sounding names. Also, additional mechanisms were designed to search with the name of villages or neighbours," he added.
Another major issue was that most of the legacy documents were in fragile condition and flat scanning was not possible under any circumstances.
"We had to use photo scanners for these records. Each and every image was linked with the data through special tools developed by us," he added.
After the legacy data phase was over, next came the challenge of digitization of applicant's data submitted in physical form at NSKs.
"Every NSK had two operators, which meant 5000 operators in 2500 NSKs with two laptops and these people were experienced in computers. The original idea was to digitize the data centrally but we developed an application which was easy to install," he said.
The final step was to develop the 'Family Tree Application' to map the manual inputs of 6.5 million families with the computerized data, Bhuyan added.
Parallely, 65 million documents submitted by the applicants were also handled by an app developed by Wipro by creating a metadata and sending it to the place of origin for verification.
"The results that returned were entered into the system and the final family tree information was merged with field verification results. The authorities took the decision for each applicant based on these results," he pointed out.
In addition, Bohniman Systems also digitised the 27,000 village boundaries of Assam and plotted all data in layers for monitoring the project in a graphical view, together with an integrated view on Google maps, Bhuyan added.