Amid strong protests by opposition-ruled states, the centre today made it clear that the disclosure of information for the National Population Register (NPR) is not mandatory. "Disclosure of information for the NPR is voluntary only," Union Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy told reporters in North Block.
He, however, maintained that implementation of NPR was a constitutional obligation that state governments should not oppose. "This is not being done by the Modi government; it was initiated by the Congress-led UPA in 2010. It is a constitutional obligation," Mr Reddy said, adding that the centre will continue sensitising states on various aspects of the population register.
While several states have objected to the NPR exercise, expected to be carried out along with the house-listing phase of Census 2021 from April 1 to September 30, some like Kerala and West Bengal have even stopped work in this regard. The show of non-cooperation comes amid concerns that the NPR would lay the foundation for the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), which aims to identify illegal migrants settled in the country over the last few decades.
Critics of the BJP-ruled centre believe that the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, when implemented along with the NPR and the NRC, may prove dangerous for the country's Muslim community. The Union government, however, insists that the three are not related.
In an effort to allay the fears of opposition-led states, the centre had recently assured that enumerators who come to collect data for the NPR will not seek identification documents from the people. It has also said that the amended Citizenship Act is meant only to give citizenship to minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who are fleeing persecution, and will not be followed by a nationwide NRC.
Opposition leaders, however, point out that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had made very different claims in this regard ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year.