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The Union Cabinet on Tuesday approved fund allocation for updating the National Population Register (NPR), putting the official stamp on a revised pan-India list of “usual residents”, but attempted to distance the exercise from the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The government said NPR would be linked to the 2021 Census, and would not require a documentation process on the lines of the recently concluded NRC in Assam.

A “usual resident” for the purposes of NPR is defined as a person who has lived in a local area for the past six months or more, or a person who intends to live in that area for at least the next six months. Unlike NRC, which is a citizenship enumeration drive, NPR also includes foreigners staying in a locality for more than six months.

 

Govt announces population register: Amit Shah explains NPR, NRC difference
The Central government announced the creation of a National Population Register next year.

“No biometric, no proof or documents need to be given for NPR. We trust our people and so, self-certification will be sufficient in NPR,” said Union information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar, while announcing that the Cabinet approved Rs 8,754.23 crore for the Census of India 2021 and Rs 3,941.35 crore for the updation of NPR.

Later, in an interview to ANI, Union home minister Amit Shah categorically said that NPR is not related to NRC and the data of NPR would not be used in NRC. He also refuted allegations that the Narendra Modi-led government is constructing detention centres and said that the amended citizenship act can only provide the same to a person but can’t snatch away citizenship.

The Opposition, however, described the process as the first step towards a nationwide NRC — a proposed exercise that has led to mass protests across the country over the past two weeks, particularly over its possible link with recent amendments to the citizenship law. Two chief ministers – Mamata Bannerjee of West Bengal and Pinarayi Vijayan of Kerala – suspended the NPR updation process this month on these grounds.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury slammed the government’s move and said: “NPR will require people to declare date and place of birth of parents and furnishing of data on 21 other points. Most of this data was not collected in the last NPR exercise in 2010.”

He pointed out that minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, had informed the Rajya Sabha on July 23, 2014, that “the government has now decided to create the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) based on information collected under the scheme of NPR be verifying the citizenship status of all individuals in the country”.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi also pointed out the same statement and tweeted: “The sun will always rise from the east, but can we say the same about your feelings towards NRC?” His remark came after Union home minister Shah quipped that if the government says the sun rises from the east, Owaisi would claim it rises from the west.

Congress leader Ajay Maken said: “It’s (Shah’s remark) a bigger lie than what Modi said in Ramlila. I have the latest annual report of the home ministry. It says NPR is the first step of NCR. We did NPR but never took it forward to NRC. We made a list of “usual residents” through NPR. But as soon the government wants to link NPR with NRC, we have to object to it because it was not something the Congress had envisaged.”

According to a gazette notification issued by the government in August: “NPR will be prepared at the local (village/sub-town), sub-district, district, state and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.” The notification added that it was mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in NPR.

The Citizenship Act, 1955, mentioned in the notification is at the heart of the controversy because it was amended by Parliament earlier this month through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA.

The new law paves the path to naturalisation for “persecuted minorities” from three Muslim-majority neighbouring countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan), who came to India before December 31, 2014.

People in different parts of India are roiled over this law because it links citizenship with religion, which they argue is against the secular nature of the Indian Constitution; and because when connected with a proposed nationwide NRC, it paves the way for Hindus to remain as citizens while offering no such path to a Muslim who may be ruled as an illegal alien in the NRC process.

The protests that have broken out against the law and a possible pan-India NRC have already claimed 25 lives, including 18 in Uttar Pradesh alone.

To underline the contrast between NPR and NRC, Javadekar said: “No biometric, no proof or documents need to be given for NPR. We trust our people and so, self-certification will be sufficient in NPR.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that a nationwide NRC was yet to be discussed in Parliament and the Cabinet, leading to questions from opposition leaders who pointed out that home minister Amit Shah had categorically told Rajya Sabha during the winter session that NRC would be conducted across the country, including again in Assam. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has maintained it is unhappy with the NRC process in Assam, where 1.9 million people – including lakhs of Hindus – were left out of the final list.

According to a note issued in July by the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India, under the aegis of the ministry of home affairs (MHA), “the objective of NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country”.

The note, describing the status of NPR in the country, said that NPR was collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of 2011 Census. This was updated in 2015 through a door-to-door survey and the digitisation of this updated information has been completed. “Now it has been decided to update the National Population Register along with the House-listing phase of Census 2021 during April to September 2020 in all the States/UTs except Assam,” it added.

Legal expert Sanjay Hegde, however, refused to buy Shah’s assurance and said: “I don’t agree that NPR and NRC are not linked. The NPR is a register of all people residing in India. While the government will create the NRC, the NPR data will become the base document for the NRC. Anyone who comes as a suspect in NPR will be the target during the NRC exercise.”

The process for NPR was first explained in 2003, when the central government issued the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules. The collection of data began in 2010 but since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was also rolling out Aadhaar simultaneously, there were apprehensions from both sides — the UIDAI as well as the home ministry — over duplication of data during the two exercises. The government then demarcated some states to NPR and the rest was given to UIDAI to avoid overlapping of data.