Will not seek parents’ birthplace detail in NPR: BJD
Odisha’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) on Tuesday announced that a question on the birthplace of residents’ parents will not be asked as part of the exercise to update the National Population Register (NPR) in the state. It added there will be an additional question related to Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the state.
“The BJD has a strong objection to question 13 (2) in the NPR questionnaire, which seeks details of the birthplace of parents of a respondent. We have decided to delete the column,” said BJD Member of Parliament Pinaki Mishra. He added that the Centre has clarified that replying to the question is optional.
The NPR is being updated across the country from April to September. Kerala and West Bengal have announced that they will not participate in the exercise. Punjab has already said it will also not seek answers to the question on the birthplace of parents. There are fears that this question is somehow linked to the National Register of Citzens of NRC although the government has clarified that there is no link between NPR and NRC and that anyway, there is no immediate plan for the latter. An NRC exercise in Assam last year excluded 1.9 million people who could not prove their citizenship.
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 generated controversy with the Opposition parties contending the exercise is linked to the NRC which is aimed at identifying undocumented immigrants. The government has in the past described NPR as the first step towards a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). It now maintains that there is no link between the two .
All of this is also happening against the backdrop of the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests.
The passage of the CAA last month to fast-track the citizenship process for non-Muslims, who have entered India from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh before 2015, triggered protests across the country. 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 the proposed pan-India NRC.
Mishra said chief minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered the addition of a question in NPR related to whether a resident belongs to the OBC category similar to the one asked in case of Scheduled Castes and Tribes.
Patnaik has written to the Centre asking for seeking details of OBCs during the NPR exercise.
Members of the Muslim community have met Patnaik and expressed concerns over the BJD’s move to support the passage of the CAA and sought assurance that their interests will be protected.
Officials at the Odisha Census Directorate refused to comment on BJD’s decision.
A former Indian Administrative Service officer, who was involved in NPR of 2010, said there is no problem with a State dropping a particular column if it is optional. “I see no problem in it. But on its own the state can’t add a column,” said the retired official, who did not wish to be named.
As the NPR is notified under the Citizenship Act, a Central law, defying the Centre could result in legal hassles for the state government, if the Centre issues direction on the questions to be included in NPR. However, the Centre has already said the question on birth of parents was voluntary.