There are no plans for now to conduct a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise, the government said in parliament today. "Till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare National Register of Indian Citizens at the national level," Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, said in a written reply.
With the clarification, the Home Ministry hopes to defuse anger and protests over the NRC and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for the past two months.
Significantly, during the joint session of parliament last Friday, President Ram Nath Kovind had skipped any reference to the NRC in his customary opening address.
The CAA, which for the first time in India makes religion the test of citizenship, was passed by parliament in December last year, sparking nationwide protests. The centre is yet to publish the draft rules.
The government says the CAA will help minorities from three Muslim-dominated countries to get citizenship if they fled to India because of religious persecution. Critics say it is designed to discriminate against Muslims and violates the secular principles of the Constitution.
Protesters against the law fear the CAA, along with the NRC - the exercise to identify illegal immigrants - will be used to target undocumented Muslims in the country. Several non-BJP states have said no to the NRC and have refused to start work on the National Population Register, which they fear will lay the groundwork for the NRC.
Critics say protests against the law by citizens and the opposition are the main reason behind the delay in the implementation of CAA.
Sources say the centre is proactively reaching out to the non-BJP chief ministers who have refused to implement the contentious law. The ministry is in touch with such leaders and is trying to bring them on board before the rules are published.
"There have been concerns of many states (on CAA)...we are in touch with many CMs - both of BJP and opposition parties- and are trying to address their fears and explaining the government's position," the minister added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier said there had been no discussions on nationwide NRC.
"I want to tell the 130 crore citizens of India that since my government has come to power, since 2014, there has been no discussion on NRC anywhere. Only after the Supreme Court's order, this exercise was done for Assam," he had said.
This contradicted Home Minister Amit Shah's declaration in parliament that a nationwide NRC was in the works.
After the PM's comments, Mr Shah told news agency ANI: "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 either in the cabinet or parliament."