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Sunday, December 05, 2021

Once upon a time, a national ID project found: Complicated to prove citizenship

Documentation base weak, especially in rural areas: MNIC pilot project lesson

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi |
Updated: February 9, 2020 12:15:40 pm
MNIC project, nrc, caa nrc, citizenship amendment act, atal bihari vajpayee government, indian citizenship, indian express  The clarification comes amid protests against the new citizenship law that the government has passed recently.

A pilot project conceived by the Vajpayee government in 2003 to test the issuing of Multi-purpose National Identity Cards (MNICs) to Indian citizens, analogous to the exercise of creating a National Register of Citizens (NRC), was closed in 2009 after it had been able to establish citizenship of less than half the residents who participated in the pilot project. It brought home the lesson that “determination of citizenship was a complicated and involved issue” and the “document base is weak, especially in rural areas”.

The MNIC pilot project, covering a population of approximately 30.95 lakh in selected areas of 13 districts in 12 states and one Union Territory, was approved in November 2003 and formally launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs in October 2006.

The pilot project was officially completed on March 31, 2008. More than 12 lakh MNIC cards — broadly reflecting the number of residents established as Indian citizens as part of the project — were issued, starting from May 2007 till it was finally closed on March 31, 2009.

A member of the committee of secretaries that monitored the pilot project told The Sunday Express that it found that “citizenship was a very complex and complicated issue”. The committee found that the pilot raised problems of a “weak document base” for determining citizenship status of individuals in rural areas, especially for agricultural labourers, landless labourers, married females and individuals not present at their place of residence at the time of enumeration.


Why this pilot still matters

The outcome of the pilot project is significant as the process of conducting a nationwide NRC is directly linked to the issue of MNIC, as per 2003 Citizenship Rules. NPR will be a list of usual residents in India and only those residents who figure in the NRC would be deemed as Indian citizens and issued the MNIC.

An amount of Rs 44.36 crore was sanctioned for the MNIC pilot project, which was abandoned without making public any results or data on its efficacy. The success rate of the pilot project, sources said, would still be less than 45%, even if certain residents who were not issued the MNICs, were included in the results.

A “Compendium of mission mode projects under NeGP” (National e-Governance Plan) said that one of the major learnings from the MNIC pilot project was that “determination of citizenship was a complicated and involved issue and may be tackled in a phased manner”.

The UPA government had also tacitly acknowledged the outcome of the pilot project in 2011 when the then Minister of State (Home) Gurudas Kamat told Parliament that “the experience of the pilot project has revealed that the process of determination of citizenship is cumbersome, time-consuming and complex in nature. Document base is weak, especially in rural areas”.

In July 2014, the NDA government told Parliament it “has decided to create National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying citizenship status of all persons in the National Population Register (NPR) and issue National Identity Cards to all the Citizens of India”. Referring to the pilot project, it said that “Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 have already laid down the guidelines to be followed for determination of Citizenship status and which have been tested during the pilot project on Multi-purpose National Identity Card (MNIC).”

However, last Monday, it told Parliament that no decision had been taken so far to conduct an all-India NRC.
“We have seen the chaos caused by the NRC in Assam, which was mandated by the Supreme Court and required under the Assam Accord. The rules for citizenship in the MNIC pilot were different from what were given by the court in Assam, they were far more lenient in many ways, and still the results were not very encouraging,” a retired bureaucrat who monitored the MNIC pilot told The Sunday Express.

The results of the MNIC pilot project, sources said, were seen to be behind the UPA government’s decision to place plans for an all-India rollout of MNIC and NRC on a lower priority. NPR of all the ‘usual residents’ in the country was created in 2010, but no nationwide NRC was conducted. The NPR database was updated during 2015-16 all over India, except Assam and Meghalaya, to make a comprehensive resident database. The electronic database of more than 119 crore usual residents of the country has been created so far, which will be updated this year, with additional information.

The pilot project for MNIC and NRC was conceived after the Citizenship Act was amended in 2003 under the Vajpayee government, following the report of the L K Advani-led Group of Ministers on National Security after the Kargil War. The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 had laid down the guidelines to be followed for determination of citizenship status, which were tested during the pilot project on MNIC.

The pilot project covered 24 sub-districts spread over Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, Karimganj in Assam, North West Delhi, North Goa, Kachchh in Gujarat, Kathua in J&K, Karaikal in Puducherry, Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, West Tripura in Tripura, Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh, Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, Ramanathapuram in Tamil Nadu and Murshidabad in West Bengal. Many of these areas were selected as they fell in the border areas and would test the efficacy of the MNIC project.

In the MNIC pilot project, after conducting a base-line survey for enumeration of population in the project area, integration of photographs and finger biometrics was done with personal data of persons above the age of 18. This was followed by verification and determination of citizenship status, either by production of certain documents or sworn affidavits by two citizens, which led to the issue of MNIC. The MNIC was issued free of cost to the citizens.

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