After the union cabinet’s approval to update the National Population Register (NPR), some opposition parties are trying to link it to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), much as Home Minister Amit Shah has denied that the two are inter-connected.
The opposition will simply not stop making wild claims about the NPR, NRC and now detention centres. In such a situation, it is important to understand the full story of NRC and NPR. To avoid rumours, it is also necessary to understand the history of NRC and whether it is related to the NPR.
The government has repeatedly insisted in Sansad and elsewhere that no Indian will be affected by the amended citizenship law as it is not meant for Indian citizens. Even after this, there have been fierce protests against this new law across the country, with the lie that its ‘link’ with the NRC is a sinister attempt to disenfranchise Indian Muslims.
The anti-CAA campaign is based on the speculation that when the NRC is implemented across the country, non-Muslims who do not provide the necessary documents to prove citizenship at that time will become citizens due to the CAA but Muslims will be declared as illegal settlers or infiltrators. The government is dismissing these fears outright and advising people to not pay heed to such rumours.
The notification related to NPR was released on 31 July 2019 this year. It has been notified under the Citizenship Rules of 2003 (Registration of Citizens and Issues of National Identity Cards).
Government, opposition & half-truths of both about NPR
The NPR is a register of ordinary residents residing in India. It is not a register of Indian citizens but of the people residing here. It is prepared at gram panchayat, tehsil, state and national levels. This register is prepared under the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955, and Citizenship Rules, 2003. Updating the NPR from time to time is a normal process. It aims to create an updated database of people living in the country so that government schemes’ beneficiaries can be decided based on it.
The opposition, especially the INC, has accused the government of lying about NPR, which they are touting as the first step towards NRC. However, according to the rules under which the NPR process has been notified, it is related to NRC. If the government separates NPR from NRC, it will have to change the rules. Sirf News pointed this out in a recent report that quoted then MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju speaking in the Rajya Sabha about the link between the two exercises.
It is mentioned in the government documents that the NPR is the first step towards NRC. The website (linked to the first sentence of this paragraph) mentions this under the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (FAQ) regarding the 2011 census during the UPA government. There is a question in the FAQ about NPR that asks whether registration is mandatory under NPR. The answer says that, according to the amendment to the Citizenship Act in 2004, registration in NPR is mandatory for any citizen under Section 14. Registration is necessary for the National Register of Indian Citizens and NPR is the first step in this direction.
Apart from the website of Census India, the 2008-09 report of the Ministry of Home Affairs during the UPA government mentions, after the NPR is ready, the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) will be independently subscribed to the NPR subset. It will be possible to make it as a whole, the report says. In addition to this in response to a question asked in Parliament by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2012, the National Population Register is the first step towards the preparation of NRC.
If you make it to NPR but not NRC, will you be detained?
First of all, it is important to understand what a detention centre is. They house illegal immigrants, whom tribunals or courts declare as foreigners. Or foreigners who are convicted of some crime and are waiting to be deported to their country. Under Section 3 (2) (c) of the Foreign Law, 1946, the central government has the right to send foreign nationals living illegally in India to their country. States can set up detention centres too.
There is a list of NRC residents in Assam to identify a native and separate him from illegal refugees. In 2013, in response to all some writ petitions, the Supreme Court had directed the registrar general of India to issue an NRC update by 31 August this year.
The process started in 2015 and the list was released on 31 August. About 19.07 lakh applicants failed to make it. Those who have failed to make it to the NRC list of Assam have the option of going to the Foreigners Tribunal and then to the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court. If their case reaches the Supreme Court and a petitioner cannot prove his/her citizenship there too, he/she will be considered an intruder and such a person will be kept in a detention centre until his/her deportation.
INC set up 3 detention centres in Assam; MHA under UPA asked all states to build them
On 13 December 2011, the then Minister of State for Home Affairs M Ramachandran had stated in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha that the government had set up three detention centres (in Golpara, Kokrajhar and Silchar) in Assam. The minister had stated further in his reply that by November 2011, 362 people declared foreign/illegal migrants were sent to these three detention centres.
It was the INC government of Tarun Gogoi that first built detention centres in Assam in 2005. In 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2018, the administrations of all the states/union territories were ordered to open their own detention centres to stop the activity of foreign nationals living illegally in the country and ensure their presence during the order of deputation.
The places where detention centres are set up in Assam are Goalpara, Tezpur, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Silchar and Kokrajhar. These have been built inside the district jails where 988 people can be accommodated. The state government built the largest detention centre in Matia, Assam, where 3,000 people can be housed simultaneously.
Since 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs, then under the UPA government, has been asking the states to build detention centres. In a response in the Lok Sabha on 23 December, it was revealed that the MHA had been instructing state governments since 2009 to set up detention centres to “restrict the movements of foreign nationals staying illegally so that they are physically available at all times for expeditious repatriation”.
There is a detention centre in Karnataka. However, Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai has problems with the term ‘detention centre’. He says the facility will be used to hold African nationals who illegally entered India as and when they are detected.
There is also a plan to open a detention centre in Mumbai. There is one detention centre each in Goa and Delhi.
Most hypocritical: Mamata government
In November, the West Bengal government agreed to opening detention centres in New Town and Bongaon. That is ironical as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has, for the past several months, made her opposition to a nationwide NRC the leitmotif of her campaign against the BJP. Of course, the state government says the two detention centres will house foreign nationals arrested on various criminal charges, and that these camps have “absolutely no connection” with the NRC.
The Banerjee government has already finalised a piece of land in the New Town area, West Bengal Correctional Services Minister Ujjwal Biswas was quoted as saying in media reports last month.