Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad on Sunday said that citizens should not be anxious about the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Population Register, and the National Register of Citizens as they are “not interconnected”.
“It has been clarified by Prime Minister [Narendra Modi], Home Minister [Amit Shah], me and others that the three issues in contention: CAA, NPR and NRC are not interconnected,” he told the Hindustan Times. “NRC is a separate chapter. CAA does not apply to any Indian, including the Muslims of India. It only and only relates to Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians who are victimised for their faith in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, grants citizenship to six religious minority groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, provided they have lived in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014. It has been widely criticised and called discriminatory because it excludes Muslims. On the other hand, the proposed National Register of Citizens is an exercise to identify and distinguish undocumented immigrants from genuine Indian citizens.
Prasad said that a similar exercise to provide citizenship was done under former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s regime for people from Uganda. Following this, citizenship was given to members of the Tamil community from Sri Lanka during former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi-led government at the Centre.
“For NRC, there is a proper legal process that needs to be followed,” he said. “Under the relevant rules, a notification has to be issued to begin the process; a date has to be fixed; then objections, considerations, verifications. There is [a] whole legal requirement to be met. Nothing has been done. I repeat nothing has been done about NRC at all.”
He said that Muslims from the three countries may seek asylum in India and that the same had been granted to more than 2,000 people from the community in the past five years. He claimed that Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan leave their respective nations because they “suffer at an individual level, not due to their faith”.
The Union minister said that the National Population Register was the usual count of residents and had “nothing to do with 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 NRC. The Census of India website has described the NPR as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”. Last week, the Union Cabinet approved funds of Rs 3,900 crore to update the NPR.
“Our commitment is there to NRC,” Prasad said. “But the government is very clear about it...whenever it is done, it shall be in accordance with the legal requirement of the Citizenship Act and the rules therein. Also, it will be done after consulting the states.”
The Union minister claimed that citizens’ declarations will be recorded in the population register, which will help the Centre to identify household requirements and take welfare measures. He accused the Congress of competing with “aggressive and extremist elements” for their vote bank.
On National Democratic Alliance parties opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, the minister said that the BJP will speak to its allies. Last week, Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral said that the party was “against the NRC”, and wanted Muslims to be included in the list of refugees granted citizenship under the amended citizenship law. He claimed that even party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal wanted Muslims to be included.
Prasad disagreed with the opinions of legal experts on the Citizenship Amendment Act and said that the legislation was clear as Article 246 of the Constitution gave the Parliament exclusive rights to form citizenship laws. “If a law is meant for a specified group, which is a reasonable class by itself, the law is legally valid and there are Supreme Court judgments upholding this reasonable classification,” he said.
Article 21, which provides right to life, included the right to live with dignity, according to courts, Prasad said, adding that this would be done by giving citizenship to the persecuted communities. Prasad said that providing citizenship to the communities would also abide Article 25, which gives the freedom of practicing one’s religion.
Prasad added that former Union minister P Chidambaram had in May 2010 told Parliament that NRC will be a subset of the NPR. He said that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had, back then, justified linking the NPR with the NRC.
On the protests against the new citizenship law in the North East states to preserve their cultural identity, Prasad said that a new chapter was made part of the legislation. He said that the provision highlighted measures to conserve Assamese and North East culture.
On internet shutdowns during protests affecting businesses, Prasad claimed that a balance was required between freedom of internet, speech, and the government’s duty to maintain the law and order situation. India leads the world in internet shutdowns by a considerable margin. In 2019, internet was shut down in 14 states.