The Centre on Tuesday clarified that there are no plans for now to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
“Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens at the national level,” Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, said in a written reply in Lok Sabha. The clarification came amid widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC.
The NRC is a proposed exercise to identify undocumented immigrants. However, its critics fear that the Citizenship Amendment Act, clubbed with the National Register of Citizens, will be misused to target Muslims since the Citizenship Act now has religion as a criterion.
The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed by Parliament in December last year. It 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. At least 28 people have died in protests against the Act since December.
The Centre is yet to publish the draft citizenship rules after the amendments. “There have been concerns of many states [on CAA],” Rai added, according to NDTV. “We are in touch with many CMs – both of BJP and opposition parties – and are trying to address their fears and explaining the government’s position.”
On January 31, President Ram Nath Kovind had hailed the Citizenship Amendment Act as a historic move, but did not mention the National Register of Citizens in his address to the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Budget Session.
After protests began in December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there had been no discussions on nationwide NRC. “The 130 crore Indians have no connection to the CAB [Citizenship Amendment Bill, as it was called before it was passed on December 11],” the prime minister had said at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan. “A lot of lies are being spread about NRC as well. It was made during the Congress regime. Where were the protesters then? We did not make it, nor did we bring it to the Parliament or announce it.”
However, Home Minister Amit Shah has repeatedly spoken about the government’s plan to introduce a nationwide NRC and how it was linked to the citizenship law. During the Lok Sabha debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill on December 9, Amit Shah forcefully declared, wagging his finger at the chair, “Maan ke chaliye, NRC aane wala hai [Take it as a given: the NRC is going to come].”
Shah even announced that the NRC will not apply to Hindus. He repeated this claim at another election meeting on April 22. On October 1, in Kolkata, Amit Shah announced: “No Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or Christian refugee – and especially Hindu refugees since their number is large – will be asked to leave India.”
No document to be collected for NPR, says Centre
The government on Tuesday reiterated that no document will be collected during the National Population Register exercise. The exercise will be carried out across the country along with the house-listing phase of the Census 2021 from April 1 to September 30, 2020.
“The NPR updation will be undertaken through house to house enumeration for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual,” Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said in a written reply. “The respondent has to provide the information true to the best of his knowledge and belief. Aadhar number is collected voluntarily.”
The National Population Register is a list of “usual residents”. “Usual residents” are those who have stayed at a place for six months or intend to stay there for the next six months.
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. Last 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.
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 Centre has argued that the National Population Register has nothing to do with the National Register of Citizens and is part of the Census.