Opposition parties hit out at the Centre on Tuesday after the Union Cabinet approved funds of more than Rs 3,900 crore to update the National Population Register, with some calling it the first step in the formation of a National Register of Citizens.
This population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is a list of “usual residents” in the country. However, it has also been linked to the National Register of Citizens, a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants and differentiate them from citizens of India. The Census of India website has described the NPR as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in an interview with ANI on Tuesday evening, claimed that the National Population Register has nothing to do with the National Register of Citizens. He also said there had been no discussions on the NRC as of now.
“There is no need to debate this [pan-India NRC] as there is no discussion on it right now, Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi was right, there is no discussion on it yet either in the Cabinet or Parliament,” he said. Shah also claimed that detention centres had been built only in Assam and would not be constructed for the purpose of holding undocumented migrants following the NRC process.
However, Opposition parties refused to buy Shah’s argument, saying that it was contradictory to the statements the government had made many times in the past.
“Once again the BJP government is caught in a trap of their own making,” the Congress tweeted. “2018-19 Annual Report of the Union Home Ministry clearly states NPR is first step to NRC. Also in 2014, former MoS Home Ministry Kiren Rijiju replied to a question in Rajya Sabha stating the same. Who’s lying now?”
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“We also did National Population Register in 2011, but we never took it forward to NRC,” Congress leader Ajay Maken said, according to ANI. Maken said Amit Shah’s claim that there was no link between the National Population Register and the NRC is a “bigger lie” than what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on Sunday.
“NPR alone is fine, but when you link it with NRC, it becomes draconian,” Maken said, according to PTI. “Then it becomes something which is a violation of human rights and of the secular credentials of the Constitution.” He also pointed out that the latest annual report of the BJP government said that the National Population Register is the first step towards the NRC.
Modi had said at a rally in Delhi on Sunday that there are no immediate plans for the NRC, and accused the Opposition of trying to mislead the people. On Tuesday, Maken said Shah was lying because of the anger of the people.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav claimed that the BJP government’s “hidden motives” to have a National Register of Citizens had been exposed through the National Population Register. “When the government itself said in Rajya Sabha that NPR will be the basis of NRC, how much lie these BJP men will speak and mislead people?” Yadav tweeted.
On the other hand, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien claimed that the Centre is trying to fool the people in the name of the National Population Register, which is the “first step towards NRC”. O’Brien said that the government had in a written reply in Parliament in 2014 said that the National Population Register by verifying the citizenship status of every usual resident is the first step towards creation of the NRC, PTI reported.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that chief ministers who opposed the NRC should also stop the National Population Register process. “It was stated clearly on the record in the Rajya Sabha by this government that the National Population Register is the base document from where the NRC work will start,” Yechury said.
There have been massive protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens in the country over the last two weeks, resulting in the deaths of at least 24 people. The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by Parliament on December 11, seeks to provide citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, it exempts Muslims from its purview.
The governments of Kerala and West Bengal have already decided to halt work on the National Population Register. However, Shah said on Tuesday that he will try to convince these governments not to hinder the process, for the benefit of the poor who need to access government schemes.
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