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BJP plan for pan-India NRC began with population register but could now be dead-on-arrival

Seeds of NRC were sown in 2003, when citizenship Act 1955 was amended to include “illegal migrants”.

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New Delhi: Home Minister Amit Shah’s promise of a pan-India NRC has already been initiated — it started 16 years ago, when the Citizenship Act 1955 was amended in 2003 to include the term “illegal migrant”.

Thereafter, the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, was issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which included the legal procedure for roll out of a pan-India NRC, except Assam.

The 2003 Rules also included the National Population Register (NPR), its implementation and how it would form the basis of NRC. The NPR, which began in 2003, would help identify ‘doubtful citizens’, who would then have to prove their citizenship before the NRC authorities.

As nation-wide protests continue over the amended citizenship law, ThePrint decodes the link between the 2003 amendment, NRC and the NPR.

Can a state block the process of NRC?

State are mandated to implement NRC because citizenship, as a subject, falls under the Union list. However, in its rollout, the central government will need the help of state-level authorities such as district- and taluka-level officers and the district registrar of citizen registration.

A state, citing law and order problems, can refuse to appoint these officers and, therefore, halt the NRC process. Law and order is a state subject.

This is exactly what West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has done.

On 16 December, Banerjee’s government issued a notification to magistrates of all districts saying “No activity regarding NPR may be taken up without prior clearance from the government of West Bengal.”

Several other states, including Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, non-Congress non-BJP states such as Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and even ally Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, have all voiced their opposition to the NRC.

What was the 2003 amendment to Citizenship Act 1955 all about?

The Citizenship Act 1955 has undergone multiple amendments starting from 1986. It was amended thereafter in 1992, 2003, 2005, 2015 and 2019.

In 2003, the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had included the term “illegal migrant” in the 1955 Act by amending Section 2 of the primary Act.

The amendment stated that any foreigner who has entered India without valid documents, such as passport, or overstays in the country beyond the stipulated time will be declared an “illegal immigrant”.

However, just including the term within the Act was not enough. To check who the illegal immigrants are and to establish a process therein, the Ministry of Home Affairs then issued a set of Rules on 10 December 2003 — this was the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, which set the ball rolling on NRC.

So how is NRC defined in 2003 Rules?

By way of a proper definition in the 2003 Rules, it states that the National Register of Indian Citizens means the “register containing details of Indian Citizens living in India and outside India”. For this purpose, the Rules also attempt to appoint a Registrar General of Citizen Registration who will be entrusted to maintain such a database.

NRC will be divided into sub-parts consisting of the “State Register of Indian Citizens, the District Register of Indian Citizens, the Sub-district Register of Indian Citizens and the Local Register of Indian Citizens and shall contain such details as the Central Government may, by order, in consultation with the Registrar General of Citizen Registration, specify”.

How is nationwide NRC different from NPR?

The NPR or the population register as under the 2003 Rules is a register containing details of persons usually residing in a village/town/ward/or urban area.

In simple words, NPR is formed by the house-to-house enumeration of data akin to a census conducted by the Government of India. There are bodies at the state, district, and taluka levels mandated under the Rules who will be entrusted with the duty to populate such a register.

However, NRC will only consider the citizens of the country and those living abroad and not everybody who is residing within the territorial boundaries of India. For this purpose, the 2003 Rules speak about ‘doubtful citizens’.

Also read: Liberal, secular opposition to CAA must not allow room for Islamic and Left radicals

So, is the NRC based on NPR?

The Rules under the head of ‘NRC’ explicitly state that “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 inquiry and in case of doubtful Citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over”.

This means that the NRC will be based on the NPR, and once the NPR establishes the list of ‘doubtful citizens’, they will have to go through a process of claims and objections before being entered into the NRC. The ones who fail to prove they are not doubtful will be excluded.

How does Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 play a role here?

The NPR list — including the ‘doubtful citizens’ category — is religion-agnostic and could include all communities. This is where the amended citizenship Act comes into play.

The 2019 Act specifies that persecuted members of six communities — Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, Sikh, Jains and Christians — from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan will be given citizenship. It does not specify the Muslim community.

Are NPR and population census the same thing?

Last week, after the Mamata Banerjee government stayed NPR work, the Modi government issued a clarification stating there was no need to fear the NPR as it will only materialise into the population census 2020.

However, a closer look at the legal details reveals a different picture.

Population census in India is under the Census Act of 1948 while the NPR is under the Citizenship Act 1955. So, the two exercises are under completely different legislations and, therefore, there is no way they can culminate into becoming the same exercise.

In fact, though, the census data will be available in the public domain, NPR will not as it will form the basis of NRC, which is not a public document.

Is there any similarity between Assam NRC and pan-India NRC?

Section 4A in The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, etches out the exception for the state of Assam.

Clause 2 of this section states that the Assam NRC was after “inviting applications from all the residents, for collection of specified particulars relating to each family and individual, residing in a local area in the State including the citizenship status based on the National Register of Citizens 1951 and the electoral rolls prior to the year 1971”.

However, pan-India NRC will be based on the population register.

In fact, clause 5 of Rule 3 states, “The Local Register of Indian citizens shall contain details of persons after due verification made from the Population Register”, which inevitably proves how NRC is based on NPR and since NPR is based on house-to-house enumeration of data by the government, there is no similarity between the Assam NRC and the one that’s going to take place across the country.

Another important factor of difference is the cut-off date. While Assam NRC had 1971 as the cut-off date, citizenship under the NRC will be based on dates in the 1955 Act.

For example, under the citizenship by birth according to the 1955 Act, every person born on or after January 26 1950 but before July 1 1987 will be considered citizens.

Next, born after July 1 1987 and before the 2003 amendment Act with either of parents as Indian citizens will also be citizenship by birth.

Lastly, if one is born after 2003, then the citizenship by birth will be granted if both parents are Indian citizens or either of parents are Indian citizen and one is an illegal migrant.

What are the details that NRC will contain?

According to the Rules, the NRC document will contain with respect to every Indian citizen: (i) Name; (ii) Father’s name; (iii) Mother’s name; (iv) Sex; (v) Date of birth; (vi) Place of birth; (vii) Residential address (present and permanent); (viii) Marital status ñ if ever married, name of the spouse; (ix) Visible identification mark; (x) Date of registration of Citizen; (xi) Serial number of registration; and the (xii) National Identity Number.

National Identity Numbers would be a “unique identity number allotted to every Indian Citizen by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration”, and this too has been defined in the 2003 Rules.

Also read: Citizenship law shows tension between BJP’s Hindutva and Modi govt’s economic goal


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