Lawyers participate in a rally to demonstrate against the new citizenship law in Kolkata on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse
Amid escalated agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) clarified in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the government has not yet decided on implementing the NRC nationwide.
“Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian citizens (NRC) at the national level,” Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai said in a written reply in Lok Sabha.
This is the first official response from the MHA on the question of nationwide NRC and is seen as an effort to calm the raging protests.
The government had earlier announced that the CAA will be followed by the NRC.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP president JP Nadda had made such statements.
The BJP’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections also promised NRC in “other parts of the country in a phased manner.”
It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had said at a rally in Jharkhand, that his government had not discussed a pan-India NRC exercise though it was initiated in Assam.
“Since my government first came to power in 2014, I want to tell 130 crore countrymen, there has never been a discussion on this NRC.”
Modi had also denied that there are any detention centres in the country. “These are lies being spread by the Congress, its allies, some educated Naxals and urban Naxals,” he had said.
Amit Shah later endorsed Modi’s statement in interviews given to news agency ANI and ABP news channel. He said categorically that data from the National Population Register (NPR) is not intended to be used for the NRC. There was no “link” between the NPR and the NRC, he asserted.
The Home Minister said the data collected for the NPR could not be used to update the controversial NRC, which he said was a “different process.”
The Home Ministry issued a statement saying, “There is no proposal at present to conduct a nationwide NRC based on the NPR data.” The NRC will have all Indian citizens on it.
Its creation is mandated by the 2003 amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955. The register will document all the legal citizens of India so that the illegal migrants can be identified and deported.
In the NRC exercise adopted in Assam, names of over 1.9 million applications were excluded from the final list released last year.
The process, monitored by the Supreme Court, saw tens of thousands of applicants rushing to seva kendras (assistance booths) with documents to prove their identity.
Countless families claimed some members made it to the register, aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants, while others could not.
Many of those deemed “foreigner” and “doubtful voter” were sent to detention centres, triggering condemnation.
NRC co-ordinator Prateek Hajela was subsequently transferred out of the state amid allegations of “huge irregularities and anomalies” in conduct of the exercise, which entailed an expenditure of Rs12 billion.
North-East Democratic Alliance convener and influential Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was among those who said the final register, in its current form, was not acceptable and should be scrapped as it “failed to fulfill the aspirations of people.”
In December last year, protests erupted across the country after the CAA was introduced and passed in Parliament. The cabinet later cleared over Rs39 billion to create an NPR. The NPR is being seen by many as the first step towards the NRC, but the Centre has sought to delink the two.
However, in written replies to questions on the National Population Register (NPR), the minister said that no document is to be collected during the exercise of updation of the NPR.
He stated that respondents are only expected to provide information true to the best of their knowledge and belief.
“Demographic and other particulars of each family and individual are to be updated/collected. No document is to be collected during the exercise; Aadhaar number is collected voluntarily.
“Further, no verification is done to find individuals whose citizenship is doubtful, during the exercise,” the minister replied.