More than a month after Lok Sabha was informed by the government that no decision had been taken to prepare the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Ministry of Home Affairs filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Tuesday stating that preparation of NRC is a “necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens.”
The MHA submitted before the Supreme Court that it was the responsibility entrusted on the Central Government “to identify/detect illegal migrants and thereafter, follow the due process of law.”
The affidavit added that Foreigners Act, 1946, conferred upon the government the power to expel foreigners from India. “It vests the Central Government with absolute and unfettered discretion, and as there is no provision fettering this discretion in the Constitution, an unrestricted right to expel remains,” the affidavit said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a public rally on December 22 in Delhi that “there had been no discussion, no talk on an NRC for India since his government had taken power in 2014.” On December 9, Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that “there is no need to create a background for NRC... we are clear that NRC ought to be done in this country, our manifesto is the background.”
On June 20, 2019, soon after the Narendra Modi government was re-elected, the President in a joint address to members of both Houses of Parliament said that the “government has decided to implement the process of NRC on a priority basis in areas affected by infiltration.” His speech on February 1 this year, however, skipped any mention of NRC.
More than a dozen States have vociferously opposed the updating of National Population Register (NPR), slated to begin April 1 along with the house listing phase of the Census. According to Citizenship Rules 2003, NPR is the first step towards compilation of NRC. The modified NPR form is yet to be made public, but it is likely to include contentious questions on “date and place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence and mother tongue.” The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 passed by Parliament on December 11 allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
The exact number of people the CAA will benefit are not known, but Mr. Shah had told the Rajya Sabha on December 11 that “lakhs and crores” will benefit.
For the first time, the MHA, through the affidavit in Supreme Court, has indicated what these numbers could be like. In the affidavit, the MHA submitted a report by the then Ministry of Rehabilitation for the year 1964-65 on the “new influx of members of minority communities from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura which began in January 1964” and “assumed formidable proportions in the months of March, April and May, 1964.”
The report states that the number of persons who migrated from erstwhile East Pakistan till 31 January, 1965 was 8,94,137. “Out of the said persons, 2,61,899 came with migration certificates, while 1,76,602 came with Pakistani passport and Indian visas. Approximately 4,55,636 persons came without any travel documents. A striking feature of the new influx was that several thousand Buddhists and Christians came from the erstwhile East Pakistan along with Hindus,” the affidavit said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pointed out on March 3 that all those who came from Bangladesh were already citizens of India and they had been voting in elections.
The MHA cited 18 orders issued by the MHA between 1952 and 2012 advocating preferential treatment for “Hindus and Sikhs” from Pakistan and Afghanistan who entered India with or without a valid visa.
The affidavit mentions a Cabinet note prepared by the then Home Secretary in January 1986 that while “illegal crossers should be pushed back,” the request of the members of the minority community from Pakistan who desired to get Indian citizenship after coming here on a short term visa should be “considered liberally”.
There are apprehensions that the CAA followed by a country-wide NRC will benefit non-Muslims excluded from the citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship. The government has denied that CAA and NRC are linked.
Mr. Shah also assured the Rajya Sabha on March 12 that furnishing information under NPR was voluntary and none will be marked “doubtful” citizens. The Citizenship Rules 2003 has the provisions to place residents under this category. This rule is yet to be amended or withdrawn.