The Kerala CM had halted NPR in the state on December 20, but the state census department is waiting to hear from Delhi
On December 20, the Kerala government had said it has ordered a stay on all activities in connection with the National Population Register (NPR) in the state considering 'apprehensions' of the public that it would lead to National Register of Citizenship (NRC) in the wake of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act 2019.
A statement from the Chief Minister's Office said the action was taken as the NPR “deviates from Constitutional values” and also because the matter was before the Supreme Court.
However, The Lede has found that the process of NPR is still on in the state. On 30 December 2019, a letter (in possession with The Lede) was sent by Kottayam Sub District Registrar of NPR to a college, seeking teachers to be appointed as field trainers for the NPR process.
And when The Lede talked to an official in the census office in Kerala, the official said that they have received a letter from the state government ordering them to halt the NPR process and have forwarded the same to the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner in New Delhi for a decision.
“We are waiting to hear from New Delhi,” the official added.
The official, who was reluctant to be identified, said that the administrative process is on and by mid-April, the groundwork would be initiated.
Meanwhile, Kerala’s opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala sharing the letter sent by the Kottayam Sub District Registrar of NPR seeking teachers as field trainers, claiming that the NPR is on and that the Kerala government is “fooling people.”
As per the 2003 Citizenship Rules, NRC can be done only after NPR. So NPR is a necessary pre-condition for the NRC.
The NPR is a Register of the usual residents of the country. It is being prepared at the local (Village/sub-Town), sub-District, District, State and National level under provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
Every usual resident of India must register in the NPR. A usual resident is defined for NPR as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more, or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.
According to the census website, the objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country.
“The database would contain demographic as well as biometric particulars,” the website states.
The website also adds that the data for NPR was collected in 2010 with the house listing phase of the Census of India 2011.
“The updating of this data was done during 2015 by conducting door to door surveys. The digitisation of the updated information has been completed. Now it has been decided to update the NPR along with the house listing phase of Census 2021 from April to September 2020 in all the States/UTs except Assam,” the website adds.
The official who talked to The Lede had also said that house listing will be initiated in April, which again confirms that the NPR process is on in the state.
Additionally, The Lede has found that the census department has a detailed NPR questionnaire format in Malayalam uploaded on its website which was updated on 09 January 2020.
The detailed questionnaire sheet has 14 questions, in which the place of birth and nationality is also asked, the key cause for concern among those opposing the move.
Subash Chandran, an advocate in the Supreme Court, said that the idea of asking a person who had been residing in India for several years to prove citizenship before administrative authorities based on documents can be problematic at the implementation level.
“This can lead to bureaucratic high handedness and arbitrariness, especially when a large section of the Indian population is uneducated and backward,” Subash said citing the Assam NRC process.
The Assam NRC process excluded nearly two million persons. There are reports that the process was riddled with flaws, leading to arbitrary exclusions.
The 2003 Rules also create a category of "doubtful citizen". There are no guidelines mentioned as to how this unfettered discretion to mark 'doubtful citizens' is to be exercised.
The Rules themselves say nothing about what happens if you are found to be doubtful. But the amendments made to the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964 in 2019 empower a District Magistrate to refer a 'doubtful citizen' to a Foreigners Tribunal.
Even though the NPR and Census processes are carried under the supervision of a single office, the Office of Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner, both are two different processes.
The Census is an exercise carried out under the Census Act, 1948. Census data is based on self-declaration made by persons without verification.
Meanwhile, NPR is carried out as per the 2003 Citizenship Rules. Under these Rules, a person must share the demographic data for the preparation of NPR. Therefore, these Rules have a coercive element, as they penalise non-cooperating persons with fines and penalties. Failure to comply with the NPR data collection can expose one to penal consequences under Rule 17.
The NPR sheet also says that furnishing wrong information is punishable according to the 2003 Citizenship Act.