Are NRC, NPR linked? Plea in Supreme Court seeks clarity
The NPR is a comprehensive biometric database of all “usual residents” in India as opposed to the Census, which is a database of households.Updated: Jan 16, 2020 23:52 IST
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a Kerala party with four members in Parliament, on Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking the Centre’s clarification on whether the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR) are linked and a halt to proceedings related to them. It cited “contradictory statements” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers at the Centre on the NRC and the NPR and said they were “creating widespread confusion and panic among the public”.
The NPR is a comprehensive biometric database of all “usual residents” in India as opposed to the Census, which is a database of households. It has triggered a controversy as the Opposition parties have claimed that the exercise is linked to the National Register for Indian Citizens aimed at identifying undocumented immigrants.
The government has in the past described NPR, which was created in 2010 and updated in 2015, as the first step towards a proposed nationwide NRC. It now maintains that there is no link between the two and that an all-India NRC is not immediately on the anvil amid anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA protests across the country.
The CAA was passed last month to fast-track the citizenship process for non-Muslims, who have entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015. Opponents of the law insist it is discriminatory and unconstitutional as it leaves out the Muslims and links faith to citizenship in a secular country. They say it could result in the expulsion or detentions of the Muslims unable to provide the documentation if the law is seen in the context of a proposed pan-India NRC. A process to identify undocumented immigrants in Assam led to the exclusion of around 2 million people from the NRC last year.
At a public meeting in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 22 insisted there had been no discussion on creating the nationwide NRC. Opposition parties have pointed out Modi’s statement contradicted Union home minister Amit Shah’s pitch for a nationwide NRC.
The IUML’s plea cited Shah statements and said he has repeatedly said the NRC shall be implemented across India.
Shah and his cabinet colleague, Prakash Javadekar, have echoed Modi and said there is no link between the NRC and NPR. Javadekar has insisted that “the NPR would not be used as NRC”. On December 29, Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that a proper legal process will be followed for a nationwide NRC. He added that some data collected for the NPR “may or may not be used for the NRC”.
The IUML cited these “contradictory statements” and said they have created panic and confusion. The Centre should, therefore, clarify whether the NRC and NPR are linked and whether a nationwide NRC will be prepared and implemented, it added.
In its plea, the IUML submitted that Section 14A of the Citizenship Act, 1955, which empowers the government to maintain an NRC, does not mandate preparation of an NRC. The NRC was envisaged only for border states where the problem of illegal migrants exists, it added.
The petitioner pleaded that the Centre should be ordered to put the preparation of the NRC and NPR on hold till the Supreme Court decides on the challenges to the validity of the CAA.
The Centre on Wednesday said barring West Bengal and Kerala, all states have reissued notifications for the exercise to update the NPR. The two states have asked for a “temporary hold” on the exercise while others including Congress-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh have agreed to conduct the exercise.
The NPR database will be updated between April 1 and September 30 along with the house listing phase of Census 2021.
The IUML has also filed an application seeking a stay on the January 10 notification bringing into force the CAA.
The plea referred to a news report, which said Uttar Pradesh has sent a list to the Centre containing details of 40,000 illegal migrants granted citizenship under the CAA.
The IUML’s plea said if the CAA is not stayed, the issue will be rendered inconsequential because once citizenship is granted under the law, it cannot be taken away.
The Supreme Court will take up for hearing on January 22 at least 60 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the CAA.
BJP spokesman Nalin Kohli said anyone can file an application before a court. “They [IUML] are entitled to it. At this stage, the court has not issued any notice or considered any of their arguments. It has to be seen whether their arguments will hold water if and when it comes up before the court.”
Kerala assembly passed a resolution against the CAA on December 31 and challenged the validity of the CAA in the Supreme Court on January 14.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced her state will not take part in the Centre’s meeting on the NPR on Friday.