The home ministry has come up with a proposal to create a citizens' register that will serve as a database for issuing national identity cards.

The ministry has circulated a note about the proposal to various other ministries in order to elicit their comments before presenting it to the cabinet for approval, said a source, who declined to be identified.

“The government has reviewed the National Population Register scheme recently and has decided to create the National Register of Indian Citizens by verifying the citizenship status of every person registered under the NPR and to issue national residents' cards to all citizens of India above the age of 18 years based on such verification,” the ministry said in the note.

The previous, Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government started gathering data for the NPR, which was to be the basis for granting people national identity cards. The creation of an electronic database of residents is almost over, and the collection of biometrics is under way.

The UPA government had also initiated another scheme, one to generate a unique identification number called Aadhar for residents. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has not said it will stop these projects.

The home ministry proposes to create the citizens register through a door-to-door verification exercise across the country. The ministry envisages first conducting a pilot exercise in order to develop criteria for determining citizenship and to finalise procedures for verifying a person's status.

“Once the approval of the cabinet is obtained, detailed financial proposals will be put up to the competent authority for conduct of the pilot,” the note said, adding: “The expenditure on conducting the pilot will be met from the annual budget sanctioned for NPR in BE 2014-15. No extra fund would be sought in this financial year.”

“Separate proposals have already been put up to the cabinet for the scheme to issue National Identity Cards,” the note further said. “Similarly, separate proposals are being formulated for maintenance and updating of the database of citizens by linking it with the registration of births and deaths and migration.”

The proposal for a citizens' register fits in with the BJP's stance against illegal immigrants, which it articulated aggressively while campaigning in eastern and northeastern states during the Lok Sabha election earlier this year.

On July 8, when asked in the Lok Sabha about illegal immigrants,  home minister Rajnath Singh replied, “We have to identify who is an Indian citizen and who is not. We have to take steps to identify a genuine Indian citizen.”

This proposal revives a pet initiative of the previous National Democratic Alliance government, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In early 2004, a few months before the NDA government was dislodged by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance-I, Parliament amended the Citizenship Act 1955 to  provide for the compulsory registration of all citizens and issue national identity cards to them.

Around the same time, the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003 were also formulated to give a fillip to the Vajpayee government’s initiative. The project, however, could not be carried forward as the NDA lost power.