Kolkata: The Narendra Modi government is exploring legal and administrative options against the Mamata Banerjee regime’s stay on the preparation and updation of the National Population Register (NPR) in West Bengal, ThePrint has learnt.
Speaking to ThePrint, top officials of the Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner (ORGI), under the union home ministry, said it has not “deliberated” much on the Bengal government decision.
“We have not taken any decision on that (stay) as of now. If the state government does not lift the stay in some time, then the concerned office or the union home ministry may look for the administrative or legal options,” said an ORGI official on condition of anonymity.
The West Bengal government stayed all activities related to updation of the NPR Monday. Its notification came amid fears over the proposed rollout of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) after the passage of the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act that provides for citizenship to six non-Muslims minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The ORGI office in Delhi is in a fix as the state government’s stay on the NPR process “is the first of its kind and almost unprecedented in nature”, said a second official who didn’t wish to be named.
“We have received the notification issued by the West Bengal government, but there is no further communication on that. It seems that there has been some confusion over NPR and NRC. These are two different things. Similarly, NPR and Census are also distinctly different in nature and are under different Acts,” said the first official quoted above.
NPR is for all the residents of the country to register themselves with the government with biometric data. NRC, conducted only in Assam under a Supreme Court-mandated exercise, required citizens to prove citizenship.
The updation of NPR is set start across the country, except Assam, from April 2020. ORGI will simultaneously continue its work for Census 2021, according to a central government notification issued earlier this year.
According to the Census of India website, the data for NPR was last collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census of India 2011.
The data was updated in 2015 through a door-to-door survey. The digitisation of the updated information has been completed.
Now, it has been decided to update the NPR along with the house-listing phase of Census 2021 during April to September 2020 in all the states and UTs except Assam.
The West Bengal government has a cell for the NPR under the state home department. The cell deals with all issues related to citizen registration within the state, and coordinates all Aadhaar related matters with the UIDAI.
This cell has now stopped all NPR work for the time being through its order sent to all district magistrates and municipal corporations.
NPR needs state support
A third senior official of the Census office said the support of the state is almost mandatory to carry out such a huge exercise.
For NPR, the government takes biometric data of a person apart from the general details. NPR was conceived under the Citizenship Act during the UPA regime.
The official said that for Census 2011, 1.78 lakh enumerators, mostly state government’s permanent or contractual employees, were taken on board and more will be taken this year.
The official added that the training for the exercise was ongoing in West Bengal, like the rest of the country, before the government’s stay.
“No state has stayed the training except Bengal. The government should allow the training to continue, else it will be a problem when the process actually starts,” added the official.
The BJP has reacted sharply to the Bengal government’s stay. The party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, who has been camping in West Bengal since the protests started against the Citizenship Amendment Act, called it “irresponsible politics by Mamata Banerjee”.
“If she is so disturbed and upset by the Act, why did her MPs not mention all these during the debate in Parliament? Why did eight of her MPs remain absent in Lok Sabha on the day? These are instances of cheap politics and theatrics,” said Vijayvargiya.
“This non-cooperation with central law and projects will not stand in a court of law. We are mulling legal ways to deal with it,” he added.
The Left parties are claiming that because of pressure from the Opposition in the state, the Mamata government has issued this notification to maintain a balance.
CPI(M) state secretary Surya Kanta Mishra gave a call for rejecting NPR and stalling the training almost a week ago. However, on 11 December, the state government issued a notification asking the department concerned to start the process for selecting employees for NPR and enumerator for the census. With the government issuing a new notification five days later, Mishra called it a “double speak” by the government.