NPR-NRC-CAA – A Detailed Review: CAA-2019 should be repealed

CAA Citizenship Amendment Act1

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA, hereinafter), amended the Citizenship Act 1955 (CA1955, hereinafter). However, an Act can only be implemented after the associated Rules are notified. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notified the Citizenship Amendment Rules 2024 (CAR2024, hereinafter) on 11.3.2024, 51-months later.

Not unjustifiably, notifying CAR2024 when general elections are about to be announced, is being viewed as politically motivated. However, leaving aside possible motives for the timing of notifying CAR2024, this article reviews CAA and CAR2024, the Acts and Rules which they amend, and their effects on people. 

At the outset, it must be noted that CAA does not stand alone – its jurisdiction is based upon the preparation of the National Population Register (NPR, hereinafter) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC, hereinafter). CAR2024 operationalises CAA, through NPR and NRC.

It is tempting to lay the entire responsibility for NPR-NRC-CAA, at the doorstep of the present NDA-3 government, but fact is that the exercise began in 2003, during NDA-1. Further, the intervening UPA-1 (2004-2009) and UPA-2 (2009-2014) governments are also complicit, because Citizenship Rules 2009 (CR2009, hereinafter) was enacted 05.02.2009. CAR2024 amends CR2009, and focusses on implementation of CAA.

250 petitions against CAA were filed in the Supreme Court of India (SCI), challenging its constitutionality and/or its operational injustices.


NPR and NRC have roots in 1955 and 2003

According to CA1955, as amended several times, with Rules notified several times, NPR of all residents will be created as a database, for preparing a NRC. Apart from transients with valid passport-visa, residents whose names are not found in NRC would be treated as illegal migrants and interned in Detention Centres.

The NDA-1 government notified “Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003” (CR2003, hereinafter). [MHA Notification No.G.S.R.937(E) dated 10.12.2003, notifying the “Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003”] Section 4(3) of CR2003 reads: “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 …”.

Among other provisions, CR2003 states that:

# Government shall carry out country-wide, house-to-house enumeration for collection of specified particulars, relating to each family and individual, residing in a local area including citizenship status.

# The particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinized by a Local Registrar.

# During the verification process, particulars of individuals whose Citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered by the Local Registrar with appropriate remark in the Population Register for further enquiry.

# Every person or family marked “D” (for “doubtful citizen”), shall be given opportunity of being heard by the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration, before a final decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens.

NPR-NRC requires every resident nationwide, to be an applicant for citizenship. Thereby, every resident becomes a supplicant before government officials, just like in colonial British times.

For a detailed critique of CR2003, the NOTE may be referred.

NPR-NRC-CAA – Doublespeak, evasiveness, or confusion?

CAA, enacted on 10.12.2019, caused a public uproar because of fears that it could be used for religious discrimination, and that NPR was the means to create a pan-India NRC.

Two days later, at a BJP rally at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, “… Modi sought to calm the nerves of the country by saying that his government had never discussed anything about the National Register of Citizens (NRC) apart from the one in Assam”

A few days thereafter, HM Amit Shah declared that there was no link between NRC and NPR. ANI quotes HM Amit Shah, as saying: “There is no link between the NRC and the NPR, I am clearly stating this today, … There is no need to debate this [pan-India NRC] as there is no discussion on it right now. PM Modi was right, there is no discussion on it yet [Emphases added] either in the Cabinet or Parliament”.

This created further uproar, because the NDA-2 Minister of State for Home Affairs, had stated the exact opposite in Parliament, on 26.11.2014. [Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.4380 of 26.11.2014. Paragraph (c)]. He stated: “The National Population Register (NPR) is a Register of Usual Residents. It would contain citizens as well as non-citizens. The objective of creating a NPR is to net all usual residents of the country at a given point of time. This would serve as the mother database for creating the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying the citizenship status of each and every resident[Emphases added].

Also, in the same session [Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.4380 of 26.11.2014. Paragraph (a)], he stated the intent of linking NPR and NRC: “It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion [Emphasis added] which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC)”.

Accordingly in 2020, Government issued an “Instruction Manual for Updation of National Population Register (NPR) 2020” for NPR Enumerators and Supervisors, to acquire details of locally residing persons by door-to-door visits, and make step-by-step modification/correction of the NPR Data Booklet and NPR Schedule.

However, HM Amit Shah assured that “nobody will be marked ‘D’ (doubtful citizen) …” , and “nobody needs to fear about NPR”, and no documents need to be submitted by anyone during the updating process.

The foregoing reveals that Government has been engaging in politically irresponsible doublespeak, and misleading the public. This has raised the deepest suspicions concerning Government’s intentions.

The NPR-NRC-CAA sequence

Thus, undeniably, NPR is the precursor to creating a pan-India NRC, which in turn will be the test of citizenship, not only for illegal immigrants and residents, but for every resident of India. Those passing or failing that critical test, will be dealt with under CAA. In any case, every resident runs the risk of being interned in a Detention Centre for 5-years. It remains uncertain what happens to internees after 5-years.

NRC places the onus to prove citizenship on the individual who is queried, and the entire power and discretion to accept or reject the proof, rests with government officials. Apart from corruption opportunities, government officials will follow government’s written and unwritten policies, and the diktats of overbearing politicians.

According to CAA, every person listed in NRC, would need to prove that he/she is Hindu/ Sikh/ Christian/ Jain/ Buddhist/ Parsi, and further prove that he/she has come from Afghanistan/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh. Muslims are outside the ambit of this law. All this would need to be done while interned in a Detention Centre, through the same official system which disenfranchised them. This creates excellent monetary opportunities for touts and corrupt officials.

What does CAR 2024 do?

CAR2024 amends CR2009, by inserting new Rules 10A, 11A and 13A, after existing Rules 10, 11 and 13, respectively, as follows: 10A. Application for grant of citizenship by registration or naturalisation by persons eligible under section 6B”; 11A. Authority to which application may be made by a person applying under section 6B”; 13A. Scrutiny of applications by Empowered Committee”. There are also insertions into Sub-rules 14, 15, 17 and 38. The insertion of new Rules concern grant of citizenship by registration or naturalisation to persons eligible under Section 6B. Thus, CAR 2024 updates CR2009 so as to implement CAA.

The tone and intention of CAR2024 is clear from the first sentence of Rule 10A, namely: “An application from a person eligible under section 6B, for grant of citizenship by registration or naturalisation, shall not be entertained unless [Emphases added] …”. Rule 10Athen goes on to quote six conditions (a) through (g), concerning applications, which must be met.

CAR2024 makes the rules for every person resident in India, to make an application to get registered in NRC, after passing through the procedures of NPR. Thereafter, he/she must submit himself/herself to the provisions of CAA. Effectively, 1.5-billion people of the world’s largest democracy will have to bear the burden of proving their citizenship to disinterested/ inefficient/ corrupt/ motivated/ hostile government officials.

Practical difficulties

Sample examples of practical difficulties in the NPR-NRC processes, which citizens have been facing in Assam and will face country-wide, are:

1. Producing documentary proof of date and place of birth during the NPR process, for entry in the NRC. There are millions of people who have no birth certificate, and many do not even know their date of birth. Others have birth certificates stating “male child born to ~~~ on ~~(date)” with no name – like the present writer born in 1941. Married women may have their birth certificate in their maiden name, which doesn’t match with her present name, calling for production of additional documents. Millions of people have never had documents prepared, or have lost them during flood/ earthquake/ accident. Or there are discrepancies between documents like spelling errors. All these provide ample opportunity to local officials to exercise their (purchasable) discretion, since, for example, under CR2009, a “Certificate issued by an elected member of any rural or urban body or officer thereof or a revenue officer” can “prove that the applicant has entered into India on or before 31.12.2014”. For one or more of the foregoing reasons, tens of millions of Indians would be unable to prove their citizenship, and be marked “D” for “doubtful citizen” in NPR.

2. A person marked “D” in NPR must appeal within 30-days at each of two successive designated levels of appeal. Millions of poor people will inevitably be marked “D” for defect in documentation. Their travails in running between government offices which could be hundreds of kilometres from their homes, and their fears for themselves and their children can only be imagined. The Assam experience shows that people have even sold their land to travel to and live in, the designated Centres of appeal, to get their names inserted in NRC.

3. Families getting fractured due to only some members succeeding in passing the NRC test.

What will CAA do?

CAA will result in pan-India, large-scale exclusion of Muslims during the NPR-NRC processes. The organic link of NPR-NRC with CAA is likely to vitiate an already toxic social atmosphere, besides causing enormous economic loss at individual, societal, state and national levels.

CAA challenged

CAA is a Central law, which State governments are obliged to implement. Earlier, since the Rules for CAA had not been notified, the objections (250 petitions before SCI) were only from people and interest groups, who felt threatened by the law. Now that CAR2024 was notified on 12.3.2024, there are reactions from States.

Tamil Nadu CM Stalin has refused to implement CAA, claiming, among other reasons, that it will create divisions among people.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has objected to CAA, saying that the moment someone applied through the portal, they ceased to be a citizen and became a refugee. Other non-BJP states may have other objections/reservations.

Is implementing NPR-NRC-CAA feasible? 

A few important issues/questions arise, which Central and all State governments will do well to consider before embarking on NPR-NRC-CAA:

1. Why should every citizen of our 1.5-billion population need to demonstrate his/her citizenship, through the official labyrinths of NPR and NRC? [It is like the Police expecting all Mohalla residents to provide proof of their innocence in a crime that took place in that Mohalla. This assumes that all residents are accused felons, unless they can prove otherwise. It insults the dignity of the individual, displays Police inability to detect and apprehend the criminal, and transfers the burden of proving innocence onto the accused, and gives unrestricted discretionary power to Police officials].

2. Is it reasonable and practicable to expect 1.5-billion people to produce valid birth certificates (with details, especially including proof of nationality of both parents)?

3. Is it reasonable to expect persons who are economically extremely backward, live in temporary buildings, often migrant workers, and effectively illiterate (around 70% Indians), to obtain, preserve and produce birth certificates, to satisfy government officials?

4. What will be the Rupee-cost to obtain a birth certificate, and who will bear this cost for mostly indigent people, noting that 81.35-crore (813.5-million) Indians are recipents of free food grains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY)?

5. Will corruption increase by touts taking money to produce genuine or fake birth certificates?

6. How will state government officials check the genuineness of birth certificates (especially certificates issued from outside the State), and will corruption among NPR-NRC Enumerators and Supervisors increase?

7. Will government officials preparing the NPR and NRC, be doing this in addition to their regular duties, and will not their regular duties concerning day-to-day governance be neglected? Existing dismal levels of governance are likely to worsen.

8. Will access to personal information by government officials entail infringement of privacy? If operation of NPR-NRC is out-sourced (as done for Aadhaar enrolment) the levels of privacy invasion will be magnified.

9. Is it likely that matters of privacy and data security may be subjected to judicial scrutiny?

10. Apart from the upfront, unaffordable Rupee-cost to individuals for travel, stay, documentation, and hearings, and cost to Central and/or State governments, will not the national-scale NPR-NRC exercise adversely affect the national economy, as people leave their livelihood occupations with loss of income for days on end, to stand in queues for getting their name included in NPR, and again to answer official queries regarding their documents, appeals, and name-entry in NRC ?

11. Has any budget allocation been made at Centre and in the States, to implement NPR-NRC? 

12. What Central and State government physical, digital and organizational infrastructure are required, to implement NPR-NRC, before CAA can be implemented?

Let us recall that NPR is the mother database to create the NRC [Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.4380 of 26.11.2014. Paragraph (c)], and operation of CAA is based upon the “citizenship status of each and every resident” entered in the NRC [Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.4380 of 26.11.2014. Paragraph (a)]. At the levels of successive State and Central legislatures and governments, there appears to be little awareness that use of CAA depends upon prior nation-wide implementation of NPR-NRC.

The monstrous implications of NPR-NRC-CAA do not appear to have been appreciated at any governmental or intellectual think-tank level. NPR-NRC-CAA will be a continuous exercise as people are born and people die. Before launching nation-wide NPR-NRC-CAA, their sequential and continuing implementation demands serious debate with wide consultation at national and state levels, along with creating human, organizational and technical infrastructure, anticipating possible downstream problems, and deciding how to handle them socially, economically and politically. Thus, implementing  NPR-NRC-CAA appears not feasible.

Need to re-visit NPR-NRC-CAA  

CAA being discriminatory on religious grounds appears obvious to the common man. Notwithstanding, SCI needs to adjudicate whether CAA is ultra vires the Constitution. In any case, CAA is divisive and socially toxic. It cannot promote Fraternity among We the People, or provide Justice, Liberty or Equality guaranteed by the Constitution. On the contrary, CAA is likely to upscale the existing social discord and unrest, and adversely affect the integrity of the Republic. Worse, in a situation of rising unemployment, it is likely to negatively affect the economic welfare of millions of Indians, and India’s overall economic growth and progress.

The 250 petitions in SCI, challenging the constitutional and operational/ administrative frailities of CAA, do not appear to interest the Judiciary, because last heard, SCI adjourned these petitions to 06.12.2022.

On 12.3.2024, the lead petitioner of the 250 petitions sought SCI’s stay of CAA and CAR2024. It is devoutly to be hoped that SCI will be pleased to hear the petitions and pass orders, before there is more social unrest followed by government’s characteristic attempts to forcefully crush it.

Government would do well to reconsider the feasibility of implementing NPR-NRC-CAA, and re-visit it with careful, consultative, all-Party thinking-through; the list of twelve issues/questions above is not comprehensive. However, government would best serve We the People and our Republic, by repealing CAA, and recalling the NPR-NRC exercise.

S.G.Vombatkere retired in 1996 from service in the Indian Army, in the rank of Major General.

References arranged chronologically, hyperlinked in the text:

1. “Why PM Modi chose to contradict Amit Shah’s NRC vow”; India Today; <https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/why-pm-modi-chose-to-contradict-amit-shah-on-nrc-1630689-2019-12-23>; India Today; December 23, 2019.

2. S.G.Vombatkere; “CAA-NRC: Ramming through won’t do”; <https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/comment/caa-nrc-ramming-through-won-t-do-788188.html>; Deccan Herald; December 24, 2019.

3. “No link between NRC and NPR, says Amit Shah“; <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-link-between-nrc-and-npr-says-amit-shah/article30389864.ece>; The Hindu; 24.12.2019.

4. S.G.Vombatkere; “NPR-NRC-CAA: The Troubling Triad”; <https://countercurrents.org/2020/03/npr-nrc-caa-the-troubling-triad>; Countercurrents.org; March 2, 2020.

5. S.G.Vombatkere; “Questioning The 2003 Citizenship Rules: The Villain of NPR-NRC”; <https://countercurrents.org/2020/03/questioning-the-2003-citizenship-rules-the-villain-of-npr-nrc>; Countercurrents.org; March 9, 2020.

6. Suhrith Parthasarathy; “For a universal status of personhood”; The Hindu; <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/for-a-universal-status-of-personhood/article31033851.ece>; March 11, 2020.

7. S.G.Vombatkere; “Destroying Constitutional ‘Fraternity’: NPR-NRC from Assam to All-India”; <https://countercurrents.org/2020/03/destroying-constitutional-fraternity-npr-nrc-from-assam-to-all-india/>; Countercurrents.org; March 16, 2020.

8. S.G.Vombatkere; “The Securiy Implications of NPR-NRC – Socially disruptive”; <https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/20393/The-Security-Implications-of-NPR-NRC>; The Citizen; May 24, 2021.

9. S.G.Vombatkere; “Talk of NPR-CAA again: Regressive and harmful”; <https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/main-article/talk-of-npr-caa-again-regressive-and-harmful-1006963.html>; Deccan Herald; July 10, 2021.

10. “Tamil Nadu will not implement Citizenship Amendment Act, saya CM M.K.Stalin”; <https://www.livemint.com/news/india/tamil-nadu-will-not-implement-citizenship-amendment-act-says-cm-mk-stalin-11710233989733.html>; Mint; March 12, 2024.

11. “Citizens will become refugees from the moment they apply via the CAA portal, says Mamata”; <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/caa-rules-unconstitutional-discriminatory-mamata-banerjee/article67942383.ece>; The Hindu; March 12, 2024.

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