India is witnessing one of the largest protests against any government decision or any legislation in recent times. The cause of this uproar is the new modification in citizenship law of India. Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) is the prime accused in the crime of instigating the mob. However, there are also two co-accused involved in this: National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR), latter being the most recent entry.
On December 24th, the Union Cabinet headed by the Hon’ble Prime Minister gave approval to NPR and allotted ₹3900 Cr (approx). In the same meeting, the Cabinet also gave approval to Census 2021 and allotted more than ₹8000 Cr for the same. The timing of government approval substantiated the apprehension of critics who viewed NPR as a mischievous tool. It is claimed that NPR was indeed nothing but a disguised sibling of the NRC.
Hon’ble Home Minister in an interview to ANI said that NPR and NRC both are different, and there is no connection between the two. The article seeks to preset that not just both are related but also that the government is aware of this relation.
The allotment of funds to NPR and Census by the Union Cabinet in a single statement gives an impression of both being related. However, both are distinct processes. The only connection is that both are under the office of Registrar General of India (RGI). The decennial census is carried out under the Census Act 1948, whereas NPR is a process mandated by rules made under Citizenship Act 1955.
NPR or National Population Register has its origin in Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. Rule 2(l) of 2003 Rules define population register as “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.” In other terms, NPR is a population register creating a database of residents staying in India. NPR is a mandatory exercise, i.e., every resident of India has to take part in the process necessarily, including citizens and non-citizens.
The official website of RGI explains that the objective of NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database in the country with full identification and other details by registering each and every usual resident in the country. This would help in better targeting the benefits and services under the government schemes/programmes, improve planning and prevent identity fraud.
The website also mentions that the NPR is being created under section 14A of the Citizenship Act 1955 (added by 2004 amendment). This is the same provision which provides for the implementation of NRIC.
Rule 2(k) defines National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) as the “register containing details of Indian Citizens living in India and outside India.” As mentioned above 14A of the Citizenship Act provides for maintenance of NRIC.
Thus NPR, NRC and CAA are derived from same piece of legislation, i.e., Citizenship Act 1955.
Many feared that data collected by NPR would be used to frame NRC; its subsequent application in conjunction with CAA. Home Minister said that the data collected are different and cannot be used in NRC. However, the Rules 2003 allow such use thereby establishing the link between the two.
Rule 4(3) state that “For the purposes of preparation and inclusion in the Local Register of Indian Citizens, the particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinized by the Local Registrar, who may be assisted by one or more persons as specified by the Registrar General of Citizen Registration.” The local register is a part of NRIC; hence, the rule allows the use of NPR data for the purpose of NRC.
In his reply in the Rajya sabha Kiren Rijiju, Minister of state for Home Affairs said that “the NPR is the first step towards creation of NRIC…” The official RGI and Census Commission of India website also substantiates the same where it mentions that NPR is the first step towards the preparation of NRIC. In 2014, the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh, as reported by PIB on June 18, 2014, also directed to take NPR project to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of NRIC. Most recently, the MHA in its Annual Report 2018-19 said that “NPR is first step towards creation of NRIC”.
The ruling party contends that NPR is not new, and the exercise was started in 2010. Indeed, the first NPR was carried out in 2010 between April and September. It was done alongside the 2011 Census. Data under 2010 NPR was collected on 15 points:
The 2020 NPR adds the following fields to it:
The addition of these points, more specifically the date and place of birth of parents, when seen in the light of the current protest against the CAA and NRC, give a reasonable sense of paranoia. This is increased by the direct link between the NPR and NRC.
NPR is a mandatory exercise, and it collects both the demographic as well as biometric data. The direct causal link allows the government to use NPR data in NRC without carrying out the nationwide NRC. The 2010 NRC data was not used by the Congress government to verify citizenship and make NRC. However, this cannot be said about the current government. So yes, the Home Minister is right when he says that NPR and NRC are different, but wrong when he says that they are not connected.
About the author: Shashank Pandey is a 4th-year law student at Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law university.