Home minister did well to say no one will be marked ‘D’ in NPR exercise; delivering on this will help restore trust.
Home minister Amit Shah has done well to—in response to the Opposition attack on the National Population Register (NPR) exercise—clarify that not even one person is to be marked ‘D’ (for a person whose citizenship appears doubtful) in the exercise that is to start soon. This is critical since the National Register of Citizens (NRC), if and when it is created, is to have details of only ‘genuine’ citizens. So, if there is a doubt over a person’s citizenship during the NPR due to that person’s inability to provide the required documents, this will automatically be a problem if citizenship is to be proved. And, as this newspaper has pointed out earlier, several crore persons (bit.ly/396JKp8)—mostly the poor—will have a problem providing adequate documentation even if they are bona fide citizens. Indeed, in a well-publicised case (bit.ly/2T2V53Y), the Gauhati High Court dismissed the citizenship claim of Nur Begum despite her submitting eight documents, including a 1966 voters’ list with her grandfather’s name, a 1997 voters’ list showing her father’s relationship with her grandfather, and three other certificates (including one from school) that showed her relationship with her father. Over 12 lakh of the 19 lakh who couldn’t prove their citizenship in Assam were, as it turns out, Hindus; while their citizenship rights will be protected under the CAA, the same cannot be said of the Muslims, even if they are bona fide Indian citizens. In which case, the NPR would have become a tool of oppression as far as Muslims are concerned.
And, while it is true the prime minister has repeatedly said the government was never considering an NRC, the fact is that the home minister has repeatedly said, including in Parliament, that an NRC will follow the NPR. So, if there is a trust deficit and people equate the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) with NPR and NRC, it is not surprising. Despite the home minister’s praise for the Delhi police in the recent riots, the fact that the police were under a cloud for their role in both the JNU and Jamia violence only added to the distrust, as did the hate speech by various BJP functionaries.
The home minister’s assurances on NPR, in this context, are critical, and delivering on them will play a big role in bridging the trust deficit. Doing so will probably mean the process will have to be relooked. Right now, the local registrar has no option but to ask for documents if the person wasn’t registered in the previous NPR exercise and cannot produce any ID to verify their identity; according to an article in this newspaper (bit.ly/2TMVok1), PC Mohanan, who quit the National Statistical Commission, explained why around six crore persons were missed out in the last NPR exercise under the UPA. The local registrar has the power to mark someone ‘D’, and this is derived from the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. Rule 4, pertaining to the National Register of Indian Citizens, says, “during the verification process, particulars of such individuals whose Citizenship is doubtful shall be entered by the Local Registrar with appropriate remark in the Population Register for further enquiry and in case of doubtful Citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over.” In other words, under the current law, the NPR exercise has to mark people ‘D’. Given this, the home minister has to change the rules to ensure this does not happen.