On the day Tamil Nadu became the newest addition to the list of states opposed to the National Population Register exercise which is due to start weeks from now, Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured Parliament Thursday that no participant in the process will be marked ‘doubtful’ in case he or she is unable to provide the information sought.
Reaching out to the Opposition saying he is always ready for a discussion on the issue of NPR and the Citizenship Amendment Act, Shah, speaking during a short-duration debate in Rajya Sabha on the Delhi law and order situation, said no document is being sought during the NPR process, and no verification of citizenship is being done. He asked the Opposition to support the government, and said nobody in the country should “fear” the NPR.
On the Opposition charge that citizenship rules have a provision to mark a citizen as “D” or doubtful in the NPR process, Shah told Congress member Kapil Sibal: “Let me say, now that we are sitting face to face… support us now. I say it clearly: First, no document will be asked for NPR. Second, any information that you don’t have, you don’t have to share that. And third, I say it on the floor of Rajya Sabha as Home Minister, nobody will be marked D.”
“No document is being asked. All information is voluntary. Whatever information a participant wants to share will be recorded,” he said.
With the NPR process due to start, Shah sought to blunt opposition to it over apprehensions regarding citizenship. His offer to engage with the Opposition is the first formal reachout following the din over the NPR-NRC process. While he may have sought to clear some of the lingering doubts, the NRC issue still hangs in the air.
Taking note of the assurance, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad asked Shah: “If I heard correctly, the Home Minister is saying that nobody will have a D against them, is that right?”. At this, Shah said: “Yes”. He said if any member of the Opposition has any doubt, he will discuss it on priority. The discussion on NPR began after Shah asked Sibal under which part of the CAA can someone lose citizenship. Sibal said, “Nobody is saying that CAA will snatch anyone’s citizenship. We are not saying that.” At this, the treasury benches erupted, saying this had always been the line of the Congress.
Sibal then said, “the law says that when NPR will happen, during NPR ten more questions will be asked and the enumerator… he will go and ask, and will put a D against the person, and an inquiry will be initiated.” He said it is not just against “Muslims” but also against the “poor” and the Dalits as many will not have documents.
Shah’s assurance comes in the backdrop of several state governments opposing the NPR process in its 2020 form — their opposition is over questions seeking details on the date and place of birth of an individual’s parents and last residence, and the fear that failure to answer these questions would make them ‘deemed doubtful’ for the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. More so, when Shah himself, in public utterances in the past, has spoken of a nationwide NRC.
While Punjab, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, Bihar (where BJP rules with JD-U) and Andhra Pradesh have all passed resolutions against NPR, states such as Odisha and Telangana have reservations on the questions relating to details of parents in the NPR form.
On Thursday, Shah appeared to be putting a stamp of authority on what his junior minister had said indirectly in Parliament last month. On February 4, in reply to a question by Congress leader Manish Tewari on the ‘doubtful’ issue, MoS Home Nityanand Rai, in a written reply in Lok Sabha, said: “During the updation of National Population Register, no verification is done to find individuals whose citizenship is doubtful.”
According to Citizenship Rules, verification of NPR data will begin only when the process for NRC starts. The NPR process will collect data of all “usual residents” of the country in a house-to-house census and then, during the process of NRC, verification of these details would be done and doubtful citizens would be marked. Notably, under Citizenship Rules, 2003, NPR is part of the NRC process.
According to Rule 4 (Preparation of the National Register of Indian Citizens) of the Citizenship Rules, 2003: “For the purposes of preparation and inclusion in the Local Register of Indian Citizens, the particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinized by the Local Registrar… During the verification process, particulars of such individuals, whose Citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered by the Local Registrar with appropriate remark in the Population Register for further enquiry and in case of doubtful Citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over.”
The rule says “The Central Government shall, for the purpose of National Register of Indian Citizens, cause to carry throughout the country a house-to-house enumeration for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual, residing in a local area including the Citizenship status.”
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