‘Will follow the legal process on NRC’: Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union minister of law and justice as well as communications. electronics and information technology, says citizens should not be apprehensive about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). In an interview with Hindustan Times, he also said the government was committed to going ahead with NRC, but only after undertaking due legal processes and talking to all stakeholders. Edited excerpts:
In the past few weeks, we have seen the Opposition, some of your own colleagues (allies) in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), voicing concerns about the new law on citizenship, NPR and NRC. How do you, as the law minister, view the situation in the country?
Let me be very clear, there should be no ground for concern. It has been clarified by the Prime Minister, home minister, me and others that the three issues in contention: CAA, NPR and NRC are not interconnected. NRC is a separate chapter. CAA does not apply to any Indian, including the Muslims of India. It only and only relates to Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Christians who are victimised for their faith in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
In the past, this [citizenship] was given by Indira Gandhi to those who came from Uganda. Then it was given again [to people coming from Bangladesh] after the 1971 war. This [citizenship] was given by Rajiv Gandhi to Sri Lankan Tamilians...Manmohan Singh talked about it in Parliament; Tarun Gogoi and Ashok Gehlot wrote [letters], saying citizenship should be granted to the persecuted minorities.
When Congress does it, then it is okay, and when we [the Bharatiya Janata Party government] take a humanitarian stand, then it becomes a cause for concern...In many ways, the opposition is sponsored. As far as our allies are concerned, we will talk to them. They have supported us and we will talk to them more.
As far as NPR is concerned, it’s the usual count of residents and has nothing to do with citizens. For NRC, there is a proper legal process that needs to be followed. Under the relevant rules, a notification has to be issued to begin the process; a date has to be fixed; then objections, considerations, verifications. There is whole legal requirement to be met. Nothing has been done. I repeat nothing has been done about NRC at all.
To compare the three – CAA, NPR and NRC – is baseless. We respect all Indians, including Muslims. India is home to all of them. We are willing to listen to them if there are grievances.
Your own loyal allies have gone on record to say CAA should not have excluded Muslims. Sukhbir Singh Badal and Naresh Gujral [of the Shiromani Akali Dal] have given statements complaining against the exclusion of Muslims?
The two are esteemed leaders of our alliance partner and we will talk to them [allies]. We would not speak with them through the press. They have supported us and we will definitely talk to them.
Let me clarify again that CAA has a very simple focus, which is to let the persecuted minorities who fled from the three countries to live with dignity. These three are declared Islamic countries and people of non-Islamic faith have suffered. It is not an individual suffering, but they have suffered due to their faith.
A Muslim from either of three [countries] can always seek asylum in India. Individual Muslims can seek asylum and over 2,000 have been given [asylum] in the last five years and we are still open to it. However, Muslims from these countries leave because they suffer at an individual level, not due to their faith. Therefore, if they [Muslims] come and request for asylum, we will given it to them in accordance with our laws. CAA is only for the minorities from the three countries.
Opposition has mounted an attack over the recently announced NPR. They say it is the first step to NRC, while the government has denied it. So is there a plan to have NRC?
Our commitment is there to NRC. But the government is very clear about it...whenever it is done, it shall be in accordance with the legal requirement of the Citizenship Act and the rules therein. Also, it will be done after consulting the states. As of now, nothing has been done, not even the preliminary exercise to notify the date.
There is a proper statutory background for NRC, which basically will be a register containing names of Indian citizens. Under NPR, there will be a population register containing details of persons usually residing in India.
For a population register, whatever you say is recorded. NPR helps the government, including states, to ascertain household requirements and formulate welfare measures. NPR is separate from census wherein details such as whether a household has gas connections or not cannot be disclosed. Hence, the need for NPR arose and this exercise was first conducted in 2010 under the then Congress regime. It was done to focus on targeted delivery of service to the needy. Congress party had rightly welcomed it. But today when we are implementing the same law and rule, then it becomes a curse. This is nothing but irresponsible, double standards and hypocrisy of the worst order. Unfortunately, Congress is competing with aggressive and extremist elements for vote bank politics.
Some former judges of the Supreme Court and high courts have questioned CAA on legal ground and have termed it unconstitutional.
I respectfully disagree with them, on the legal point. The law is very clear. Article 246 gives Parliament the exclusive right to frame law on citizenship.
Article 14 mandates the government to ensure citizens’ equality before law and equal protection of laws to them. But if a law is meant for a specified group, which is a reasonable class by itself, the law is legally valid and there are Supreme Court judgments upholding this reasonable classification. In CAA, minorities from the three countries are described as a class by themselves who, because of being persecuted, are being driven out in the most arbitrary and unreasonable manner.
Thirdly, Article 21 is right to life, which courts have said includes the right to live with dignity. By giving them citizenship we are giving them dignity, without depriving anyone of their life or dignity. One Article, which is rarely spoken about, is Article 25 of the Constitution. This allows professing and practising one’s faith and religion. By giving them citizenship, we are enabling this right of the persecuted minorities, which is being denied to them. Therefore, CAA is perfectly constitutional, permissible and reasonable.
Do you think the government’s objective behind changing the citizenship law has been mis-communicated and that is why people are equating CAA with NRC?
...it has been clarified repeatedly that there is no link between the two. CAA is meant for persecuted minorities from the three countries and this is not an exercise done for the first time. P Chidambaram as the home minister had on May 7, 2010 declared in Parliament that NRC will be a subset of the population register. UPA [Congress-led United Progressive Alliance] government had then justified the linking of NPR and NRC. Section 14 (A), which makes it compulsory for the government of India to register every citizen and issue a national identity card, was brought into effect in 2004, when Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. If Congress had the guts, it should have then said we would not do it...
Passage of the Triple Talaq bill is a feather in your cap and it had a good reception. Do you think the kind of dividend you gained from the passage of this bill has got impacted by the recent developments?
Muslim women know Narendra Modi stood for their cause. In the most strife circumstances, in spite of dogged opposition of women leaders, we stood by them and they acknowledge that. Conventionally, we (BJP) have got fewer Muslim votes but our policies of inclusion have changed the trend.
It has changed since 2014. Schemes such as Ujjwala, housing for the poor, and Ayushman Bharat have brought about the changes.
Our policies are not for vote bank politics, but are an extension of our constitutional duty...
CAA has been opposed in the North-east for different reasons and not on the ground of religion. Their concern is more linked to their identity.
A fresh chapter was added to the citizenship law when Section 6A was included in it under the Assam Accord (in 1985). This provision talks of taking steps to conserve Assamese and North-east culture. However, nothing was done by Congress governments. Our government has set up a committee and we are committed to maintain the sanctity, heritage and social fibre for the people of North-East. Their interests will be taken care of.
There are concerns over the economic fallout of internet shutdowns witnessed during the recent protests against CAA. As the telecom minister, what is your view on this?
We respect right to access internet as it is derived from the right freedom to free speech and expression. But this right is subject to reasonable restrictions. India today is a rising power and government is committed to its Digital India programme. Internet is the finest creations of human mind, but is abused by a few, especially terrorists and separatists, to spread violence and mayhem. Even the SC [Supreme Court] says in its privacy judgment that terrorists or criminals do not have right to privacy.
Therefore, it is necessary to maintain a balance between freedom of internet, freedom of speech and the compelling constitutional duty of the government to maintain law and order.
Don’t you think police has been over-enthusiastic in using its force against protestors, particularly in UP?
The chief minister and the top cop there are looking into the issue and if a wrong has been done, then it will be addressed. But that does not mean those who commit violence, destroy public property, burn buses should go unpunished. Every right is subject to restriction. State’s primary duty is to secure security and law and order.
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