The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved Rs 3,941.35 crore for updating the National Population Register (NPR), and another Rs 8,500 crore for the Census 2021 exercise. Contradicting its earlier statements on the issue, the Centre claimed that there was “no link” between the NPR and the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In an interview to a private news agency, Union Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that not just was there no “link”, but also that no NRC would be conducted. He said the NPR was a decennial exercise, first conducted under the Congress-led UPA government in 2010-11, and it was intriguing that no questions were asked then.
The decision of the Union Cabinet and Shah’s comments come in the wake of over 10-day of nationwide protests by students, activists and political parties, some of which have turned violent, and nearly two dozen people killed in police action. Shah said he wants to assure minorities that NPR data would not be used for preparing an NRC.
However, Opposition parties and rights activists said the government’s words could not be trusted.
They said the Centre should go ahead with the Census, but demanded repeal of the “divisive” Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a stop to NPR. Opposition leaders pointed to at least eight occasions in the past five years when the Narendra Modi government has on record said, including in Parliament, that NRC would be the culmination of the NPR exercise. The Citizenships Rules of 2003 provides for the NPR and subsequent National Register for Indian Citizens (NRIC), they pointed out.
The Home Minister said NPR will be voluntary exercise, where people can submit documents if they wished to and hinted the government planned to amend the questionnaire of the NPR. Shah accused opposition parties of spreading rumours on the issue, appealed to Kerala and West Bengal governments to review their decision of not conducting NPR and said he will have a “dialogue” with state governments opposed to the exercise.
The Home Minister said these governments, by stopping the NPR exercise would be denying the minorities and the poor benefits of government schemes. He said state government employees will collect data under the NPR from April 2020, starting with house-listing exercise, and needed to be trained. He bemoaned the training is already late by 15-20 days. Shah also conceded that there was lack of communication on the part of the government to dispel the perception about NRC, and appealed for peace.
Briefing media in the afternoon after the meeting of the Union Cabinet, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the NRP will “not be a long form”. “There will be a mobile app for people to upload their details. It's self-declaration. No document is required. No proof is required. No biometric is required. This is already accepted by all the states. All the states have already notified it," Javadekar said.
However, opposition parties, including the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and CPI (M) pointed to the May 13, 2015, reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha by then minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju which linked NPR and NRC. “It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR and National Identity Cards would be issued to Citizens,” Rijiju said.
In a related development, Bengal BJP vice president Chandra Kumar Bose, who is the grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, demanded inclusion of Muslims in the Citizenship Amendment Act. A German student, who took part in the anti-CAA and NRC protests in Chennai last week, left India after Bureau of Immigration authorities asked him to go since his participation in demonstrations over domestic issues allegedly violated visa regulations.
The Trinamool Congress accused the Modi government of “cheating” on the issue, and pointed to its various statements in the past about conducting NRC. CPI (M) polit bureau asked all CMs opposing NRC to stop NPR activities in their respective states. It said the NPR exercise will require people to declare date and place of birth of parents along with furnishing data on 21 additional points. “Most of the data being collected now was not collected in the last NPR exercise in 2010,” it said.
It is clear that the NPR is the first stage of the exercise to implement the NRC, the CPI (M) said. “Notwithstanding the untruths of PM Modi, it is abundantly clear that the NPR will lay the foundation for the NRC,” the statement said. CPI (M) chief Sitaram Yechury said while the Census should continue, the NPR should be cancelled.
At least 12 Chief Ministers have announced that the NRC will not be implemented in their states. The Chief Ministers of Kerala and West Bengal have decided not to proceed on the NPR as well.
The NPR is a list of "usual residents" of the country. A "usual resident" is defined for the purposes of NPR as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.
The data for National Population Register was collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census of India 2011. The data was updated in 2015 by conducting door-to-door survey. The digitisation of the updated information has been completed.
Now it has been decided to update the NPR along with the house-listing phase of Census 2021 during April to September 2020 in all the states/union territories except Assam, according to the website of the Office of the Registrar General, and Census Commissioner. A gazette notification to this effect was issued in August this year.
The NPR will be prepared at the local (village/sub-Town), sub-district, district, state and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.
Anti-CAA and NRC protests continued in several parts of the country, including in Delhi.