New Delhi: Union Home Minister Amit Shah sought to defend the National Population Register (NPR) exercise Thursday, saying it was not against minorities.
No individual, he added, will be categorised as “doubtful citizens” if they are unable to give the required information. “There will be no ‘D’ put against the name of any individual. They can give as much information as they want. They will not be forced,” Shah said in the Rajya Sabha during a discussion on the Delhi violence.
“No one should be scared of the NPR,” he said.
The home minister also clarified that the government would not seek any documents from an individual for the NPR, a UPA-era initiative that seeks to streamline the delivery of welfare services.
“I want to make it very clear. An individual will not be asked to show any document for NPR. It was not done before, it will not be now,” Shah said.
The ‘D-voter category’ was first introduced in Assam, where illegal immigration is a deeply emotive issue, in 1997 to identify residents with doubtful citizenship credentials. They are mentioned in the electoral rolls, but have a ‘D’ marked against their name, which means they can’t vote.
Although Shah repeatedly said on the floor of the House that no individual will be marked a doubtful citizen in the NPR, the Citizenship Rules 2003 — a legal framework that refers to the exercise — state that the enumerator carrying out the exercise will mark and write remarks for individuals that he/she feels are “doubtful citizens”.
“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 pro-forma immediately after the verification process is over,” sub-rule (4) of Rule 4 states.
The rules, however, are not clear on the factors that will decide an applicant’s identification as “doubtful citizens”.
A controversial exercise
The NPR is a register of “usual residents”, described by the home ministry as individuals who have been residing in an area for at least six months or intends to stay in a particular location for the next six months.
It is not a citizenship enumeration drive as it takes into account foreign citizens as well.
While the NPR has been conducted before, this edition has stoked a row over questions that require applicants to specify their parents’ place of birth.
The NPR exercise comes amid protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which seeks to ease Indian citizenship for the non-Muslim minorities of India’s Muslim-majority neighbours, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which aims to expel illegal immigrants from India. There are fears that the NPR and the CAA may be precursors to a nationwide NRC, which may disenfranchise the country’s Muslims.
In January, 20 Opposition parties led by the Congress said they would suspend NPR enumeration as it was a “prelude to NRC”.
West Bengal and Kerala — led by non-NDA constituents — have put their foot down against holding the NPR exercise in their states.
Many states have also asked the government to remove the contentious question on the “date and place of birth of parents”.