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Clearing the air on Census, NPR and NRC

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

On December 10, 2003, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification which contained the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, hereinafter referred to as “Citizenship Rules)

This was done in exercise of the powers conferred by Sections 18(1) and 18(3) of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which state as follows:

Section 18(1): The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette make rules to carry out the purposes of this Act.

Section 18(3): In making any rule under this section, the Central Government may provide that a breach thereof shall be punishable with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.

What is the NPR, or National Population Register, as recently announced by the Government? Rule 2(l) of the Citizenship Rules defines the term ‘Population Register’ as follows:

“Population Register” means the register containing details of persons usually residing in a village or rural area or town or ward or demarcated area (demarcated by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration) within a ward in a town or urban area;

The Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner of India describes the NPR as a Register of usual residents of the country. A usual resident, for the purpose of NPR, is a person who has resided in a place for 6 months or more and intends to reside there for a period of another 6 months or more.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification on 31 July 2019 wherein it was made clear that the government intended to update the NPR. Interestingly, there was no protest back then.

The following demographic details of every individual were taken for NPR in 2010 :

  • Name of person
  • Relationship to head of household
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s name
  • Spouse’s name (if married)
  • Sex
  • Date of Birth
  • Marital status
  • Place of birth
  • Nationality (as declared)
  • Present address of usual residence
  • Duration of stay at present address
  • Permanent residential address
  • Occupation/Activity
  • Educational qualification

The preparation of the NPR is carried out under the aegis of the Central Government. This is in accordance with Rule 3(4) of the Citizenship Rules, 2003, which reads as follows:

The Central Government may, by an order issued in this regard, decide a date by which the Population Register shall be prepared by collecting information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of Local Registrar.

The data for NPR was first collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census of India 2011.

In a recent interview to ANI, Union Minister of Home Affairs, Shri Amit Shah, was not very lucid as regards the distinction between NPR and the decennial exercise of the Census. Let us, therefore, understand the difference between the two. Section 3 of the Census Act, 1948 states as follows:

The Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare its intention of taking a census in the whole or any part of the territories to which this Act extends, whenever it may consider it necessary or desirable to do so and thereupon the Census shall be taken.

Census data is based on self-declaration made by the persons without verification. It is, however, binding upon the citizens to share demographic data for the preparation of NPR, failing which the person may be fined. This is in accordance with Rule 17 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, which states as follows:

Any violation of provisions of rules 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 14 shall be punishable with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.

NRC is the National Register of Citizens. It is also known with the acronym NRIC, or National Register of Indian Citizens.

NRC has a legal basis, for it is being monitored by the Supreme Court of India through the case of Assam Public Works v Union of India and Ors. [Writ Petition (Civil) No. 274 of 2009].d. Although this is only for Assam, it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would allow the government to move forward so that it would cover the whole of India, prior to the addressal of potential flaws.

In an interview with Rahul Kanwal, Shri Amit Shah said that the NRC exercises in Assam did lead to a few flaws, without the addressal whereof the NRC shall not be implemented. Therefore, it is only logical to assume that NRC would not, by itself, lead to mass deportation of Indians themselves.

If Sections 14A(1) and 14A(2) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 are read along with Rule 3(1) of the Citizenship Rules, it would be clear that the government is, in fact, mandated to prepare the NRC. Since the Government of Narendra Modi is the first to do so, it should be commended and not subject to villification.

Shri Amit Shah said that there was no link between NPR and NRC. This statement is partially true and partially false.

Why is it partially false? Because, the link between the two has been made explicit by Rule 3(5) of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, which states as follows:

The Local Register of Indian citizens shall contain details of persons after due verification made from the Population Register.

Why is it partially true? It is in the context of the purpose behind the two that they are different. While the NPR is intended to identify the demographics of actual residents who will be direct beneficiaries of any schemes launched in the area, the NRC is intended to maintain a register of all the citizens of India. It is evident that both serve different purposes.

In order to explain the point of beneficiary schemes, the Minister provided an example, as recorded by India Today: “A majority of permanent residents of an industrial town in Gujarat may be Gujarati speaking, but the majority of current residents may consist of Hindi speaking people from various parts of the country. The NPR data will help government design and adapt schemes like Ayushman Bharat, Jandhan Yojna, or medium of instruction in schools as per the current demographics, thus making the schemes more effective.”

There have been concerns raised by a section of the society that those who can not prove themselves as citizens may be deported immediately. What happens to those whose citizenship may be doubtful? Rule 4(4) of the Citizenship Rules states that such individuals would be marked and their families would be communicated with of the same.

Would they be deported immediately? Such a concern is unfounded, for Rule 4(5)(a) clearly states as follows:

Every person or family specified in sub-rule (4), shall be given an opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before a final decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens.

Further, reading rules 4(6)(a), 4(6)(b), 4(7)(a), 4(7)(b) and 4(7)(c) of the Citizenship Rules would make it clear that the grievance of a person in this context would be heard within a period of ninety days from the date of appeal, and that a person may raise an objection within a period of thirty days from the date of the publication of the draft of the Local Register. In case the appeal is allowed, the particulars shall be entered in the NRC.

In light of the above facts, the concerns regarding immediate deportation of those whose citizenship be doubtful, are unwarranted.

There remains Rule 4(6)(c) which states as follows:

Subject to the provisions contained in clause (a) of sub-rule (5), the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar shall consider such objections and summarily dispose off the same within a period of ninety days, and thereafter submit the Local Register of Indian Citizens so prepared to the District Registrar of Citizen Registration who shall cause the entries in the Local Register of Indian Citizens, to be transferred to the National Register of Indian Citizens.

In all fairness, the period of ninety days is reasonable, for the government could possibly not allow an indefinite time period.

Amit Shah had said that in addition to the demographic details that characterized the 2010 NPR (as mentioned in point 8), the 2020 NPR ‘Schedule’ asks about details of date of birth and place of birth of one’s parents.

Why have these been added? The reason is that the citizenship status of one’s parents is a determining factor for citizenship by birth after the 2003 amendment to Citizenship Act 1955. This is by virtue of Section 3 of the 2003 Amendment Act.

What are the issues with NRC, now? At an implementation level, the idea of asking citizens to prove their citizenship on the basis of documents may be problematic. According to Gautam Bhan, who has written on livelaw.in, there are concerns of bureaucratic high-handedness in consideration of the fact that a sizeable percentage of population is uneducated. Also, the “doubtful citizen” category in Rule 4(3) is inherently subjective, for there have been no guidelines as regards the marking of “doubtful citizens”.

What must be made clear is that since there is no official notification as regards the date of the beginning of NRC, it would be premature to talk about what documents may be sufficient to prove citizenship.

I would conclude with the following points:

(1) The NRC has been mandated by the Citizenship Rules of 2003, and is being monitored by the Supreme Court in Assam.

(2) The NPR is a precursor to NRC in the sense that the NRC data would prepared post the verification of the NPR.

(3) Since the NPR activity is to commence in April 2020 and end in September 2020, the NRC would witness commencement only thereafter, and not immediately.

(4) None of this is a pet-project of the incumbent government. Therefore, subjecting it to villification would be unfair. Being the first government to actually implement the pre-decided rules, it should, on the contrary, be commended. What is to be demanded is the addressal of potential flaws, something the Home Minister has promised to do.

(5) The government would be mandated to address the flaws. A flawed NRC shall, understandably, not receive the assent of the Supreme Court.

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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