The chief secretaries of nearly half a dozen non-BJP ruled states stayed away from a meeting called by the Ministry of Home Affairs to discuss the National Population Register (NPR) on Friday, instead sending other functionaries in their place. Nobody from West Bengal made an appearance.
"West Bengal had already informed us that they won't be participating," a senior Home Ministry functionary told NDTV, adding that a few states have objected to the new methodology being used to compile the NPR.
Opposition parties believe that the NPR will lead up to a nationwide National Register of Citizens, which they say will put the country's Muslim community at risk of persecution. The centre has dismissed concerns over the new methodology being adopted for the exercise, expected to be carried out from April 1 to September 30, saying that nobody would be put under pressure to divulge information they do not want to.
"If someone does want to share any information regarding any issue, it is up to that person. He has the option of not sharing it," Minister of State for Home Affairs GK Reddy told reporters.
Rajasthan Chief Secretary DB Gupta told reporters that he and a few other attendees objected to certain questions expected to be asked as part of the exercise. "We said that several questions, such as those related to parents' birthplace, are impractical. There are many people in the country who don't even know where they themselves were born. We asked for such questions to be removed," he said.
Kerala has decided to put its NPR exercise on hold until its concerns are addressed. "However, the state government has informed us that it will cooperate with census operations," said a Home Ministry official who was part of the meeting.
The conference, inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, was attended by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla as well as chief secretaries and census directors. In his address, Mr Rai said that the data collected from the census would help in framing policies for people's welfare.
The NPR is being prepared at the local (village/sub-town), sub-district, district, state and national levels under the provisions of the Citizenship Act-1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules-2003. The rules provide for imposing a fine of Rs 1,000 on violators.
Data for NPR was last collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census 2011. While updating the register in 2015, the government had asked details such as Aadhaar identification and mobile number. Additional information pertaining to driving licence and voter ID may also be gathered this time round, officials said, but added that PAN card information will not be sought.
The law compulsorily seeks to register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card. The NPR exercise will be carried out between April and September in all states and union territories with the exclusion of Assam (where the NRC exercise has already been carried out).
The Union Cabinet has approved a budget of Rs 3,941.35 crore for the NPR exercise.