The government should consider using the Aadhaar database to build a population register, K N Govindacharya, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue, has said in a letter he wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah as nationwide protests continue against a new citizenship law.
Aadhaar numbers of about 1.25 billion citizens can be used to integrate with the last National Population Register data, Govindacharya has suggested in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Business Standard. The "union cabinet has sanctioned Rs 8754.23 crore for census operations and Rs 3941.35 crore for NPR purposes. Data integration will not only save the national resources but also avoid unnecessary inconvenience to the millions of people in India," he said.
NPR, which will collect demographic and biometric data, was thought of at a Chief Ministers' conference on internal security in 2001. With the backdrop of the Kargil war in 1999, it was felt that there was a need to separate citizens from aliens. A Multi-Purpose National Identity Card was to be provided to citizens and the idea of NPR was born.
His letter comes after Parliament on December 11 passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) to provide a path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi, Jewish and Christian minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Critics say the law--and plans for a National Citizenship Register (NRC) --discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the country’s secular constitution. The government has said no citizen will be affected and that there are no imminent plans for a register.
The NRC, a subset of NPR, was carried out in Assam on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2018. It sought to identify "doubtful citizens" and ended up excluding 1.9 million residents from the citizenship register. The CAA, 2019 was brought to provide a path to these residents but the exclusion of Muslims has become controversial as it adds a religious test to Indian citizenship.
This has led to widespread protests across the country, largely led by students, asking for CAA and NRC to be withdrawn.
As Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship but identity, using it with NPR can be useful for population mapping. Govindacharya suggests that the NRC be executed without verification and scrutiny of 137 crore population of India, many if whom can be further verified using data that is collected by State and Central governments such as voter lists, passport holders, driving licences, PAN cards, registered property, and so on.
"Voter List persons and their children may be around 130 crores, and who can be treated as bonafide citizens and part of NRC. Accordingly, Government can do the verification of documents of remaining 7 crore persons, which may be 5 per cent of the whole population," Govindacharya has suggested.
The inferences are based on research done by think tank Centre for Accountability and Systemic Change.
Essentially, an exercise like this would eliminate the need for every citizen to go through the hassle of verification, and will save the government huge expenditure.
He has also said that India does not have the resources to build high class detention centres for doubtful foreign nationals. "Instead of investing hugely on high class detention centres for illegal immigrants, prison improvements should be prioritised," Govindacharya said.