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Monday, April 06, 2020

Ravi Shankar Prasad: Need for NPR because Census detail can’t be made public to any authority

In an interview with The Indian Express, the Union Law and Justice Minister talks about the National Population Register, nationwide NRC and their connection with the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | Published: December 29, 2019 1:24:19 am
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ravi Shankar Prasad on npr, national population register, nationwide nrc, caa protests, citizenship law protests india, indian express news  Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that like IAS, IPS, India needs a proper All India Judicial Service.  (File Photo)

The Indian Express speaks to Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on the controversy around the new citizenship law, NRC and NPR. Excerpts:

What was the law ministry’s legal opinion on the Citizenship Amendment Act, especially on reasonable classification under Article 14 (Right to Equality) of the Constitution, where a set of religions were included and the Muslims were excluded?

…CAA is perfectly constitutional and legal. Article 246 says clearly that Parliament has exclusive power to make laws in any of the matters enumerated in List 1 of the seventh schedule, and entry 17 of this list talks about citizenship, naturalisation and aliens. Therefore, Parliament has full powers to make laws on these three issues.

Parliament is sovereign in law-making, but it is subject to one restriction that it should not violate the fundamental rights, including Article 14. And there are umpteen Supreme Court judgments, that if reasonable classification is there then the law should be valid if it has nexus with the objective of the law to be achieved.

What CAA does is that persons who have been persecuted because of faith, in the three countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, are being given citizenship in India. The CAA is not related to any Indian at all. It neither gives citizenship to anyone or takes away from anyone, including Muslims. These persecuted groups because of the faith form a reasonable group by themselves and this reasonable classification has a nexus with the object of the law. It is in complete compliance with Article 14.

And if we talk about precedence, Indira Gandhi gave citizenship to only Hindus ousted by Idi Amin in Uganda. She also gave citizenship to people persecuted by people from East Pakistan. Rajiv Gandhi gave citizenship to Sri Lankan Tamilians.

How will the nationwide NRC be conducted?

Rule 4 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 talks about processes like enumeration, verification, scrutiny, objection, appeal etc that have to be followed for the NRC. But nothing has been done. NRC has not even been initiated…

PIB has come out with FAQs on the possibility of the documents that could be asked.

This question is entirely academic. When the process will start under Rule 3 and Rule 4 of citizenship rules 2003, there will be a proper public declaration …

When will the NRC be conducted?

That position has to be taken. There is a legal process… There will be a consultation with the state government, feedback will be taken. If anything is to be done it will be done publicly. Nothing will be a secret on NRC… it should be reiterated that Assam NRC was on the Supreme Court directives.

There are new data points in the NPR, especially related to parents’ name and place of birth. There are apprehensions that these details which are being sought by the government are the first step to the nationwide NRC?

First of all, I should tell you that there will be no targeting of anyone on the basis of faith as far as welfare measures are concerned… we need to understand that Census…has constitutional sanctity… The Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 talk about NPR… there is a need for NPR because Census details (of individuals) cannot be made public to any authority, but NPR is required to frame policies for delivery of welfare schemes. In May 2010, while replying to a debate on census 2011, the well-informed Chidambaram said that “it will be obvious that Register of Citizens will be a subset of the Population Register”. Congress owned up both NPR and the NRC as a subset… The UPA, in 2004, should have said no to NRC in 2004. This is double speak and hypocrisy of the Congress.

So you are saying that NPR data will not be used for NRC?

The entire legal process will be followed. Some maybe used or some may not be used. But let me answer the larger question. Any citizen can vote; but to vote you have to be on voters’ list. So even if you are a citizen, and are not on voters’ list — a citizen cannot vote. This voters’ list is reviewed. Similarly in Passport Act or the PAN, whole range of data are being taken… So this thing that (only) NPR is collecting parents’ data, I fail to understand.

There have been different messages from the government, one in Parliament by the Home Minister and outside Parliament by the Prime Minister on CAA and NRC.

The Amit Shah speech was very clear that NRC and CAA are separate. PM had to clarify because of an orchestrated campaign.

With CAA filter, why do you think Muslims are worried? There is also an apprehension among Muslims that if a Hindu is out of the NRC, he or she can hold CAA as a shield.

CAA is not applicable to any Indian. No Indian can become (a citizen) or denied citizenship because of CAA.

Students have come out to protest. They are holding the Constitution and reading the Preamble. But there have been arrests and detentions.

Everyone… has the right to protest peacefully… But if anyone commits arson and destroys public property, that will not be tolerated…

But there have been wave of arrests in UP and notices have been sent to protesters to pay for the damages. Is this legally sustainable?

There have been Supreme Court orders to that effect. And why not? Ultimately taxpayers’ money is involved. But the UP administration has made it clear that no innocent will be victimised.

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