The Modi government has gone on record in Parliament that it has not taken any decision till now to prepare the National Register of Indian Citizens. This was the reply given by the minister of state for home affairs, Nityanand Rai, to a written question. This is in line with what the prime minister, Narendra Modi, had said at a rally in Delhi on December 22, 2019 that since his government came to power in 2014, there has been no discussion on the NRC.
These are half-truths meant to deceive the people. Half-truths because, the NRC as such, is not being compiled but the process of preparing the NRC has begun. When it is pointed out that the updation of the National Population Register (NPR) has been notified which is the first stage in the preparation of the NRC, then the government denies that there is any connection between the NPR and NRC. This is patently false.
The prime minister and other ministers of the union cabinet know very well that it was the Vajpayee government which adopted an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1955 introducing the concept of a National Register of Indian Citizens in 2003. In order to bring such a register into being, the rules framed under this amended Act provides for a National Population Register. The NPR will consist of all usual residents in a locality and the answers collected through questions posed to the head of the household will be the data entered into the population register by the local registrar. It is out of this information that the screening and verification will be done of “doubtful citizens”. It is after this that the National Register of Citizens will be finalised.
In the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, in clause 4, the preparation of the National Register of Indian Citizens, states: “a population register will be prepared by collecting information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of the local registrar. The local register of Indian citizens (as part of the national register) shall contain details of persons after due verification made from the population register.” It is clear enough that the NRC will be finalised after the verification of the population register.
Only after preparing the National Population Register can the National Register of Citizens be compiled as per the Citizenship Act and Rules. So the Modi government’s notification of the NPR on July 31, 2019 marks the beginning of the process to prepare the NRC. The sole purpose provided for the NPR in the rules under the Act is to serve as the base for the NRC.
Two days after Modi’s disavowal of any talk about the NRC, the union cabinet met and sanctioned Rs 3,941 crore for updating the NPR. The first phase of the Census (house listing) and the updation of the NPR are to be conducted by the states within the timeframe of April 1 to September 30.
What is being obfuscated by the central government is that there is no need for any new law or even parliament sanction for the NRC. The finalization of the NRC will only be an administrative decision to be taken after the house-to-house enumeration of the NPR is completed. Once the NPR is done, the NRC will become a fait accompli.
That is why contrary to what the prime minister and the home minister are saying now, the correct position was spelt out by the home ministry in its annual report of 2018-19: “Government of India has approved a scheme of creation of National Population Register (NPR) in the country by collecting specific information of all usual residents. NPR is the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC). The demographic data for NPR collected in 2010 has been updated in 2015. Biometric enrollment of 33.43 crore persons has also been done under the scheme.”
Only in Assam did the NRC process not go through the NPR route. This is because there is proviso for a special process as per an amendment of the Citizenship Act in 1985 and introduction of clause 6A. In Assam, every person has to file an application and provide documents to establish citizenship as per the rules provided under the amended Act. The NRC in Assam was not based on the NPR as envisaged for the rest of the country. Faced with the growing opposition to the CAA and the NRC, the Modi government is seeking to conduct the NRC process through stealth and subterfuge. This they hope to accomplish by claiming that the NPR has nothing to do with the NRC.
For the present NPR process, apart from the questions added in the updation done in 2015, wherein the Aadhaar card, mobile number, passport details etc were added to the questionnaire, this time the date and place of birth of the parents have also been added. Some allies of the BJP like the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, have said that the questions about place of birth of the father and mother should not be there, implying thereby that the NPR process is alright without them. But this is just diverting the issue. Whatever questions are asked for the NPR, those will be the base for screening and verification for the NRC. The data collected from a household if is found unsatisfactory, then notice will be issued to them to prove their credentials as citizens. At that time questions about their parents or even grandparents can be asked.
So those who say NRC is not required, like Nitish Kumar, should not proceed with the NPR in Bihar. In fact, the CPI(M) Central Committee has appealed to all those chief ministers who have said that they do not want NRC to halt the proposed enumeration for the NPR in their states, just as Kerala has done.
As for the Modi government, if it is honest about not proceeding with the NRC, it should withdraw the notification for the NPR and announce that only the Census enumeration will take place.