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Home / India News / Married women, labourers saw ‘extremely poor’ listing during ID pilot in 2000s

Married women, labourers saw ‘extremely poor’ listing during ID pilot in 2000s

The central government finalised the plan in 2003 to launch the pilot project in which 3.1 million people, mostly in border districts, were enumerated.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2020 07:39 IST
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
People at a protest against the CAA, NRC and NPR, in Kolkata on Sunday.
People at a protest against the CAA, NRC and NPR, in Kolkata on Sunday.(ANI)

A pilot project to determine citizenship and provide multi-purpose identity cards to people between 2004 and 2009 across 12 states and a Union Territory revealed poor documentation in rural areas, officials said on Sunday, even as a political row continues in the country over the amended citizenship law, the latest National Population Register (NPR) and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The central government finalised the plan in 2003 to launch the pilot project in which 3.1 million people, mostly in border districts, were enumerated. Determining citizenship and issuing identity cards were crucial recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, which conducted a holistic assessment of India’s security after the 1999 Kargil conflict.

About 1.25 million people were given the Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) which was valid for 10 years by the Registrar General of India (RGI), according to the government. The microchip-embedded card carried a photograph of the individual and fingerprint biometric data.

Documents provided as proof of being an Indian citizen were verified with issuing authorities by officials under the exercise. For instance, a school-leaving certificate was verified with the board that issued it. Those who couldn’t provide any document were asked to produce at least two people who could stand guarantee to back the claims of citizenship, according to the rules laid out for the procedure.

“In case there was the wrong declaration, the people who stood guarantee and the individual would face legal action,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity. “In particular, married women who rarely inherit land or property and landless labourers had extremely poor documentation,” the official added.

The project was wound up in March 2009 without determining exactly how many of the nearly 3.1 million people enumerated could prove their credentials. In a reply in Parliament in 2011, then minister of state for home affairs Gurudas Kamath said later: “The experience of the pilot project has revealed that the process of determination of citizenship is cumbersome, time-consuming and complex in nature. Document base is weak, especially in rural areas.”

Under the project, which was carried out during the terms of governments led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, people in select districts of states and UTs including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Delhi were covered.

A committee of secretaries which looked into the results of the project concluded that “citizenship is a complex issue” and should be taken up in a “phased” manner. A former secretary who was part of the panel said: “The results showed identifying citizens would be difficult and controversial.” “There was apprehension that creation of National Register of Citizens would be disruptive for society. It was downgraded in priority,” he added, asking not to be named.

Former Union home secretary Madhukar Gupta said “the government then decided to build a National People’s Register — a biometric database. The National Register of Citizens was restricted to Assam because it was part of the 1985 Assam accord,” he added.

The current National Democratic Alliance government’s move to bring the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which fast-tracks citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the updated NPR and the proposed NRC have triggered protests across the country, with the Opposition calling the move divisive.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rally in New Delhi that the government did not discuss a nationwide NRC in any Cabinet meet or Parliament.