Two municipal corporations in West Bengal last week withdrew notices they had issued to gather manpower for the National Population Register. The notices had been issued in spite of the fact that the West Bengal government has suspended work on the NPR.
Both orders were hurriedly cancelled within a day following a backlash and two junior bureaucrats were suspended.
As first reported on Scroll.in, the NPR is the first step to creating an all-Indian National Register of Citizens which would identify illegal migrants residing in India. Till now, West Bengal and Kerala have suspended the NPR, while five Congress-ruled states are mulling similar action.
On January 7, the Kamarhati Municipal Corporation in North 24 Parganas issued a letter to all the government schools with the subject, “First reminder for submission of details of enumerators and supervisors for Census 2021 and NPR 2020”.
The door-to-door data collection for the Census as well as the NPR will be carried out by government school staff, among others.
A similar letter was issued by the Titagarh Municipal Corporation, also in North 24 Parganas on January 8. Referring to a directive from the District Magistrate, the letter asks for the names of school staff in order to act as enumerators for the “Houselisting and Housing Phase of Census 2021 and Updation of NPR-2020”.
Both orders led to an immediate backlash, with civil society groups and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) criticising the Mamata Banerjee government for allegedly misleading the state on the NPR exercise.
West Bengal had issued an order on December 17 suspending all work on the NPR.
Following this, the two orders were hurriedly withdrawn. Scroll.in has viewed both cancellation orders.
Both municipal corporations argued that the reminders for staff were a bureaucratic oversight and that no NPR work was ongoing on the ground. “This order was first issued before the state government had stopped work, so this reminder went by mistake,” said Gopal Saha, chairperson of the Kamarhati Municipal Corporation. “As soon as I came to know what had happened, I made sure to withdraw the order the very next day.”
Titagarh also had the same explanation. “It went by mistake,” said Prashanta Chowdhury, chairperson of the Titagarh Municipal Corporation. “I can assure you it was just a bureaucratic oversight and there is no NPR work on in Titagarh.”
Both bodies have suspended a junior bureaucrat each, blaming them for the error.
Civil society groups, however, are not completely satisfied with this action. “These two officers are being made scapegoats,” said Ranjit Sur of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights. “The order was issued by the district magistrate and municipal chairperson. Why has there been no action taken against them?”