The Narendra Modi-led Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved nearly Rs 4,000 crore for a fresh exercise to update the National Population Register (NPR). What is causing fresh fears among people is that, according to media reports, the exercise will include information about respective birthplaces of father and mother.
Although NPR was first made in 2010 along with the house-listing operations for Census 2011, and then again updated in 2015, the inclusion of these new queries brings it perilously close to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that has triggered protests in recent weeks across the country, prompting Union minister Prakash Javadekar to allay fears on NCR at a press briefing on Tuesday by saying that “NPR has nothing to do with NRC” and would not require “biometrics or documents.”
However, the Modi government has itself stated that there is a link between NPR and NRC. In a written reply to Lok Sabha on July 15, 2014, Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, said: “The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides that the Central Government may compulsorily register every Citizen of India and issue National Identity Card to him. Accordingly, Government has decided to create National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying citizenship status of all persons in the National Population Register (NPR) and issue National Identity Cards to all the Citizens of India.”
In another written reply to Lok Sabha on MNIC cards, the Modi government has again reiterated the link between NRC and NPR. As per the Home Ministry, “The National Population Register (NPR) is a Register of Usual Residents. It would contain citizens as well as non-citizens. The objective of creating a NPR is to net all usual residents of the country at a given point of time. This would serve as the mother database for creating the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying the citizenship status of each and every resident.” (emphasis added).
The NPR data collection exercise is carried out by the Office of Registrar General of India (also Census Commissioner) which comes under the Union Home Ministry. The inclusion of new queries has not yet been officially confirmed. It is likely – and necessary – that such changes to the Schedule (questionnaire on which data is collected) of NPR would be released into public domain in the coming days.
Different from Earlier NPR Information
In the two rounds of NPR that have taken place till now, a 14-point schedule was used which included such demographic details like name, age, sex, date of birth, marital status, names of parents, occupational status, address and nationality. All these were to be recorded “as declared”, that is, as stated by the head of the household to the enumerator who does the house to house survey for collecting data.
According to media reports, this time round, the NPR queries will include several other points like Aadhar number, mobile number, passport number, PAN besides the one about parents’ birthplaces.
Fears about this data being misused have also arisen although reports also speculate that all the data will be confidentially and securely preserved.
What is the Connection with NRC?
The NPR is a register of all “usual residents” of the country. The term “usual resident” is defined as “a person who has resided in a local area for the past 6 months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next 6 months or more”. All this information is simply recorded as told to the enumerators.
The NRC, on the other side, is a register or record of ‘citizens’ (as different from ‘usual residents’). In the case of NRC, citizenship has to be established through documentary proof of types specified by the Citizenship Act.
The Registrar or its counterparts at state, district or local levels, will have the right to verify these documents and if they so feel, mark people as “doubtful” citizens based on documentation. Then, the onus will be on such persons to prove that they actually are citizens. The NRC exercise in Assam was carried out in this way recently.
The fears about its misuse arose because the Modi government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 11, which discriminates against Muslim “illegal immigrants” from three neighbouring countries (Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan) by denying them fast track facilities that were offered to those other “illegal immigrants” who belonged to other faiths.
It was widely felt that not only was such discrimination on religious grounds violative of the secular nature of the Indian Constitution but that it also violated several constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. Several dozen petitions against this law are pending in the Supreme Court.
The fresh NPR data collection round, without giving any reason, has reportedly included birthplaces of parents, which would lead to questioning the very citizenship of persons. This will happen because according to Section 3c (ii) of the Citizenship Act, if either of parents is an illegal immigrant, then a person born in India will not be considered a citizen.
Seen in the context of the new Amendment introduced by the Modi Government through the CAA, which makes it mandatory for Muslim alone to prove that they had been resident for not less than 11 years prior to December 31, 2014, the issue of parents’ birthplace would become crucial. If you can’t prove your length of residence, then you are an illegal immigrant, and so would be your offspring.
Smuggling in NRC?
From the fresh NPR decision, it appears that the Modi government has decided to smuggle in the whole citizenship issue through the backdoor, using NPR. This is what the fears of the secular-minded people and the minority communities are. The NPR may not require proof to be offered but the fear is that the government can always include that provision of proof, or at least record that there was no proof given. After that, it would be open for the government to start challenging the citizenship of targeted individuals.
The new NPR decision will also test the thinking of various Opposition parties and chief ministers, eight of whom have till now declared that they will not allow the NRC exercise in their respective states. Only West Bengal, Kerala and Rajasthan have already declared that even the NPR exercise will be put on hold. In the coming days, the whole issue has the potential to continue to agitate the people.