Janata Dal (United) President and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday suggested that the Centre use the 2011 form for the National Population Register instead of a new one, reported News18. He reiterated his opposition to the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens while maintaining a diplomatic silence on the Citizenship Amendment Act.
“The new NPR form is creating more apprehensions and fear,” Kumar, who is a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, told journalists after a meeting of the JD(U) at his official residence. “There are many columns, like place and date of birth of parents, which are unnecessary. If you ask me, even I don’t know the date of birth of my mother. I have been told that these columns are optional. One can leave it blank. But leaving a column blank will give rise to more suspicion and apprehensions. So, I would appeal to the Centre to stick to the old NPR form [of 2010-11] instead of the new one.”
Kumar said the JD(U) MPs will take up the NPR form matter with the Centre and apprise the government of their reservations.
Separately, the Odisha government said it has decided against asking these questions and that the relevant column will be deleted from the form for the state. “The specified Column 13 (ii) of the NPR form will be deleted from the state NPR sheet,” ruling Biju Janata Dal leader Pinaki Mishra told The Times of India after a meeting of party MPs chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The National Population Register – a list of “usual residents” – is scheduled to be updated simultaneously with the house-listing phase of the decennial Census exercise from April 1 to September 30. “Usual residents” are those who have stayed at a place for six months or intend to stay there for the next six months.
Earlier this month, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy said that the disclosure of information during the National Population Register exercise was voluntary. Lok Janshakti Party leader and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan had also said that the government would consider the demand to drop the questions about the date and place of birth of one’s parents in the proposed National Population Register. After Opposition-ruled states objected to questions about the “place of birth of mother and father” in the NPR form, home ministry officials had said that answering those questions were not mandatory.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has not notified the NPR form yet. The Centre has argued that the National Population Register has nothing to do with the National Register of Citizens and is part of the Census.
As first reported by Scroll.in, the NPR is the first step to creating an all-India National Register of Citizens, which would identify undocumented migrants residing in India. This has led to scepticism from states ruled by parties that are not part of the National Democratic Alliance. Till now, West Bengal and Kerala have suspended all work related to the NPR, while five Congress-ruled states are mulling similar action.
The Bihar chief minister reiterated that there was no question of implementing the National Register of Citizens in his state. “We’ve already said NRC will not be implemented in the state and as far as CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] is concerned the matter is now in Supreme Court and will be debated there,” he said, according to The Hindu. “If someone has an issue, they can put it there”. The JD(U) was one of the parties that had voted in favour of the new citizenship law in both the Houses of Parliament in December.
The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The Act has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims. Twenty-six people died in last month’s protests against the law – all in the BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam.
The government’s critics and some protestors fear that the amended law and the National Register of Citizens will be misused to target Muslims since the Citizenship Act now has religion as a criterion. There are now fears that a nation-wide National Register of Citizens will be imposed. The Assam NRC had left out around 6% of the state’s population.