SPEAKING about the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) plan that have sparked protests across the country, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said that a “proper legal process” will be followed for a nation-wide NRC, including consultation with state governments, and that “some” data collected for the National Population Register (NPR) “may or may not be used” for the NRC.
His remarks, in a detailed interview to The Sunday Express, assume significance as more than half-a-dozen state governments, including Bihar, led by BJP ally JD(U), have opposed implementation of a nation-wide NRC. At least two have also said they won’t allow the NPR as it might lead to an NRC.
In an interview to ANI last week, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the NPR and NRC were governed by different laws and NPR data would never be used for the NRC exercise. “There is no connection between the two processes, nor can they be used in each other’s survey,” he said.
Asked when the NRC would be implemented, Prasad told The Sunday Express, “A position has to be taken. There is a legal process. First a decision, second a notification, then the process, the verification, the objection, the hearing of the objection, right of appeal. 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 an NRC.”
He also reiterated that the NRC conducted in Assam was on the Supreme Court’s directives.
On documents that would be acceptable for a nation-wide NRC, Prasad said no decision had been taken on this. “This question is entirely academic. When the process will start under Rule 3 and Rule 4 of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, then there will be a proper public declaration of that.”
The Law Minister slammed the Congress and senior leader P Chidambaram for protesting against CAA and the NRC, saying that it was the former home minister who, under the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government in 2010, informed the Lok Sabha that “it is obvious” that a citizens’ register will be a “subset of the NPR”.
Defending the Centre’s decision to initiate a fresh NPR, Prasad said this was necessary as the Census data “cannot be made public” to any authority and the NPR data would be used to frame policies for delivery of welfare schemes. “The NRC is a different concept altogether… The Citizenship (Registration of Citizen and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, talk about the NPR… There is need for an NPR because Census details cannot be made public to any authority, but the NPR is required to frame policies for the delivery of welfare schemes.”
On Congress objections, Prasad said, “In May 2010, while replying to a debate on Census 2011, the well-informed Chidambaram said, ‘It will be obvious that Register of Citizens will be a subset of the Population Register’. The Congress owned up both the NPR and the NRC as a subset.”
Asked specifically if NPR data, such as details regarding parents and their place of birth, would be used for an NRC, Prasad said, “The entire legal process will be followed. Some (NPR data) may be 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 the voters’ list. So, even if you are a citizen and are not on the voters’ list, a citizen cannot vote. This voters’ list is reviewed. Similarly, for a passport and PAN card, a whole range of data is taken. Under the passport Act, details of parents are there, even in voters’ list parent details are present. So this thing that (only) the NPR is collecting parents’ data… I fail to understand.”
In reply to a question on whether Hindus could use CAA as shield if excluded from the NRC, Prasad asserted that Indian Muslims “have no grounds to fear” from either, and added, “no Indian can get or be denied citizenship because of CAA”.
The minister added, “The NRC is a completely different provision. It is only related to citizens of India. I want to urge Indian Muslims that they have no grounds to fear. CAA is only for those Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jain, Sikh and Parsis who are from three countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan). CAA is not applicable to any Indian.”
On the criticism of police action against demonstrators, Prasad said the Narendra Modi government respects the right to protest. “I should make it clear, that everyone, including students, have the right to protest peacefully. We acknowledge and respect that right. They also have the right to criticise the government. But if anyone commits arson and destroys public property, that will be not tolerated and appropriate legal action will be initiated.”