In the wake of country wide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA), Home Minister Amit Shah recently said that there was no connection between National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The remarks came on the same day when Union Cabinet approved allocation of Rs. 3941.35 crores for NPR.
In this backdrop, let us see if there is any link between NRC and NPR on the basis of the existing legal framework governing them.
What is NPR?
NPR means the "National Population Register", which has its base in the rules framed by the Central Government under the Citizenship Act, 1955 in 2003 called the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. Incidentally, these are the same rules which give legal framework for National Register of Indian Citizens as well (more on this below).
Rule 2(l) of these Rules define 'Population Register' as :
"Population Register means the register containing details of persons usually residing in a village or rural area or town or ward or demarcated area (demarcated by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration) within a ward in a town or urban area;"
The Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner describes NPR as "a register of usual residents of the country." An usual resident for the purpose of NPR is a person who has resided in a place for 6 months or more and intends to reside there for a period of another 6 months or more.
The following demographic details of every individual were taken for NPR in 2010 :
Who prepares the NPR?
The preparation of the NPR is carried out under the aegis of the Central Government.
Under Rule 3(4) of the 2003 Citizenship Rules, the Central Government can decide the date by which the NPR should be prepared. The data for National Population Register was first collected in 2010 alongwith the houselisting phase of Census of India 2011. The updation of this data was done during 2015 by conducting door to door survey.
On July 31, 2019, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued the gazette notification for starting the information collection for NPR throughout the country (except Assam) between April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020. The Registrar General, India acts as the National Registration Authority for NPR. Incidentally, the same officer also functions as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration for NRC.
What is the difference between NPR and Census?
Census is an exercise carried out under the Census Act, 1948. Census data is based on self-declaration made by the persons without verification.
NPR is carried out as per the 2003 Citizenship Rules. Under these Rules, it is compulsory for a person to share the demographic data for preparation of NPR. Therefore, these Rules have a coercive element, as they penalize non-cooperating persons with fines and penalties.
Failure to comply with the NPR data collection can expose one to penal consequences under Rule 17.
It may be noted that both these processes are carried under the supervision of a single office : the Office of Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner.
What is NRC/NRIC?
NRC/NRIC means National Register of Indian Citizens.
This has its base in Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, which says, among other things, that:
Rule 3(1) of the 2003 Rules states that the Registrar General shall establish and maintain the National Register of Indian Citizens.
The National Register of Indian Citizens 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.
Is there any link between NPR and NRC?
A bare reading of 2003 Rules reveals that NPR lays the foundation for NRC.
The NRC will contain the details of the persons after "due verification made from" the NPR. This is clear from Rule 3(5), which says :
"(5) The Local Register of Indian citizens shall contain details of persons after due verification made from the Population Register".
For making NRC, the particulars entered in the NPR is first verified by the Local Register of Citizens as per Rule 4(3). Following this verification, the NRC is finalized, after removing 'doubtful citizens'.
The Rules give power to the Local Register to mark 'doubtful citizens' after the verification of NPR particulars.
Rule 4(4) says:
"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 proforma immediately after the verification process is over."
The 'doubtful citizens' are given an opportunity of hearing before removal. After that, a draft NRC for the local area is published. People are granted even opportunity to raise objections against inclusions in the NRC.
Following this, the final NRC is published.
It is also pertinent to note that both NPR and NRC are under the same office (The Registrar General of India functions as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration).
Is NPR the first step for NRC?
It is not necessary that NPR will lead to NRC. As stated above, NPR was first made in 2010 and updated in 2015. This was not followed by NRC.
However, the preparation of an NRC as per the 2003 Rules can be done only after NPR. So, NPR is a necessary pre-condition for NRC.
The present dispensation has on many occasions expressed its intention to bring in nationwide NRC. Even during the Parliament discussion of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah had spoken about the intention to prepare nationwide NRC.
Several statements of the government, as made in press releases, replies in Parliament and documents of Census department, indicate that NPR 2020 is intended as the first step for NRC.
There are reports that the questionnaire for the 2020 NPR is different from the 2010 NPR. The 2020 NPR 'Schedule' asks about details of date of birth and place of birth of one's parents, in addition to the details sought in the 2010 NPR(mentioned above). The citizenship status of one's parents is a determining factor for citizenship by birth after the 1987 and 2003 amendments to Citizenship Act 1955. This could be an additional factor showing a nexus between NPR and a possible NRC.
Why is NRC problematic?
The idea of asking a person who had been residing in India for several years to prove citizenship before administrative authorities on the basis of documents can be problematic at implementation level.
This can lead to bureaucratic high handedness and arbitrariness, especially when a large section of Indian population is uneducated and backward.
The recently concluded Assam NRC process, which excluded nearly 2 million persons, is an example. There are reports that the process was riddled with flaws, leading to arbitrary exclusions.
The 2003 Rules also create a category of "doubtful citizen" (See Para 4.3) - a bizarre category that is inherently subjective and open to administrative interpretation. There are no guidelines mentioned as to how this unfettered discretion to mark 'doubtful citizens' is to be exercised.
The Rules themselves say nothing about what happens if you are found to be doubtful. But the amendments made to Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964 in 2019 empower a District Magistrate to refer a 'doubtful citizen' to a Foreigners Tribunal.
Another provision in the Rules which can lead to a lot of hassles is Rule 4(6)(a), which enables any person to file objections against the inclusion of any person in the Local Register of Citizens. This can be a problematic provision, with a lot of possibilities of abuse.
Foreigners Tribunals are quasi-judicial bodies where executive officers, without formal judicial training, act at the helm. There are reports of Foreigners Tribunals acting casually and callously, to pass orders without reasons.
As per the present law, the burden will be on the individual to prove citizenship.
So, the consequences of any wrongful exercise of discretionary powers of the NRC officials could be drastic : the de-legitimization of a person.
It can be devastating for a majority of Indians in inverse order to their proximity to privilege, paperwork and social power.
Since there is no official notification regarding NRC, it is premature to talk about what documents may be sufficient to prove citizenship. Yet, the framework of the NRC Rules place an individual at the mercy of administrative officers, who can put one to a lot of hassles and hardship by arbitrary exercise of powers.
Is there any link between CAA and NRC?
There is no apparent link between CAA and the NRC.
But there were remarks by the Home Minister Amit Shah during campaign for 2019 elections that the Government will first bring CAA, which will be followed by the NRC in the order of chronology. When the protests against CAA intensified across the nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Sunday that there was no discussion on NRC.
CAA may come in aid of at least a section of persons who may happen to get excluded from a possible nationwide NRC, in case they prove that they are non-Muslim migrants who had fled religious persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, and that they had entered India before December 31, 2014. The possible impact of CAA on the Assam NRC list is also a matter which will be highly discussed.
[With inputs from Gautam Bhan, teacher/activist and author of "In the Public's Interest: Evictions, Citizenship and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi (2016)".]