The exercise to collect data for the National Population Register (NPR) in Bihar will be carried out between May 15 and May 28, senior BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister of the state Sushil Kumar Modi said on Saturday.
The JD-U, the BJP’s partner in Bihar’s ruling coalition, said that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi had clarified that there is no proposal to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country, there was no problem in going ahead with the NPR exercise.
In the middle of last month, with protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed countrywide NRC gaining momentum, JD-U vice president Prashant Kishor had said that party chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was against a nationwide NRC. With national spokesperson K C Tyagi confirming the decision to “say no to NRC”, the JD-U had become the first BJP ally to come out openly against the NRC.
“Every state has to do it (the NPR exercise). It is the legal process. No state can oppose it,” Sushil Kumar Modi said.
“If any official opposes the Census, he is liable to be punished with three years in prison with penalty. If an enumerator or a collector says he will not do it, he can get punishment up to three years. There is a provision of disciplinary action and Rs 1,000 fine for opposing the NPR exercise,” Sushil Modi said.
Opposition-ruled West Bengal and Kerala have put the exercise to update the NPR on hold, citing apprehension that the data collected would be used for the NRC. The 2018-19 Annual Report of the Home Ministry says that “The National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) under the provisions of the aforementioned Statute (Citizenship Act)”. And as early as in November 2014, then Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had told Rajya Sabha the same thing: “The NPR is the first step towards creation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying the citizenship status of every usual residents.”
Mixed signals from Centre
After Amit Shah’s assertions that a countrywide NRC exercise would be carried out, the PM said the NRC had never been discussed by the government. Shah later said NPR data would not be used for the NRC, but R S Prasad said that “some” NPR data “may or may not be used” for the NRC.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an election rally in Delhi on December 22 that there had been no discussion in the government on the NRC. “Lies are being spread,” he said. “From the time my government came in 2014 until today… there has been no discussion on NRC. No talk at all.”
Subsequently, Home Minister Amit Shah, who has repeatedly asserted that a countrywide NRC is imminent, said in an interview to ANI that “there is no connection” between the NRC and NPR, and that “NPR data can never be used for NRC”.
Later, in an interview to The Sunday Express, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that “some” data collected for the NPR “may or may not be used” for the NRC.
Sushil Modi said he wondered how the Kerala government had passed a proposal (to oppose the NPR), and had been writing to Chief Ministers of other states, asking them to act similarly. “Mamata Banerjee (of West Bengal) is also opposing it. Do (Kerala’s) Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee have the guts to oppose NPR and stop the Census? If they dare to oppose it, passing proposals will not suffice. Opposing the process is against the Constitution, Sushil Modi said.
He said that in every Census, new information and new questions were added. “What is the big deal about it? If three questions are added and new queries are asked, what is the problem? Second, it is not mandatory to answer these questions. New information has been sought on parents, but it is not compulsory to answer them.”
The NPR is a register of the usual residents of the country, and includes both Indian and foreign citizens. It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR. The first NPR, prepared in 2010 under provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and Citizenship Rules, 2003, was updated in 2015. The new NPR will include questions on the date and place of birth of parents, and last place of residence.
JD-U spokesperson Tyagi said: “It is the UPA government that had introduced the NPR in 2010 as an extension of the Census process. As long as NPR data is not used for NRC, we have no issue. Now that the PM has clarified that the NRC would not be implemented, the matter has been put to rest. Also, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has made it clear that the NRC would not be implemented; there is no issue now with going ahead with NPR.”
JD-U state president and Rajya Sabha MP Vashistha Narayan Singh said he had not followed up on the matter, and could react only after “understanding” it.
JD-U Bihar spokesperson Rajib Ranjan Prasad said: “Congress had brought NPR and several Congress-ruled states, we learnt, would be implementing NPR. The confusion began after then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said in a written reply in Parliament that NPR is the first step to NRC. Now that both the PM and the Home Minister have clarified their position on the NRC, and it is okay to go ahead with the NPR.”