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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 24, New Delhi, May 29, 2021

Review NPR-NRC: Disruptive, expensive, impractical, illogical | SG Vombatkere

Saturday 29 May 2021, by S G Vombatkere

May 19, 2021

Illegal migrants living inside India is a worrying, long-standing reality dating back to the 1950s. This is so especially in several border states. Over decades, successive governments of different political persuasions at centre have amended the Citizenship legislation several times, but have only complicated, not helped to resolve if not solve, the issue. Together, the centre and states have failed to solve the problem of identifying illegal migrants. These failures have compounded the adverse social effects.

Government of India has indicated that the Citizenship Act 1955, as amended several times, with Rules notified several times, will be put into effect by creating a National Population Register (NPR) to serve as a database to prepare a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Apart from travellers with valid passport-visa, residents whose names are not found in NRC would be treated as illegal migrants and put into Detention Centres.

Assam’s Supreme Court-monitored 5-years duration NPR-NRC experience costing ₹1,220 crores ended on 31.08.2019. It found 1.9-million (6%) of 32.9-million people who applied for citizenship, as “illegal migrants”. They were unable to prove their citizenship for want of documents necessary and acceptable to enrolment officials. Over 60% of these 1.9 million illegal migrants were Hindus. One wonders at government introducing CAA-2019 as a Bill just 100 days later, and becoming law on 12.12.2019.

Coronavirus stymied Government’s country-wide implementation of NPR-NRC, starting April 1, 2020. However, the fear of NRC being implemented remains, although it is now overshadowed by deaths and suffering in the on-going brutal Covid 2nd wave and an almost certain 3rd wave. It is tragic that even while people are in the grip of the pandemic, Assam CM H.B.Sarma announced intention to re-do Assam’s NRC. This has re-kindled fears not only of further exclusions, but about having to once again go through the traumatic process of proving their citizenship with documentation.
The public fears exacerbate the sense of individual and social insecurity, with consequent social tensions and violence. This threatens social stability, and constitutes a national concern both for internal and external security. Social insecurity and social strife can only help India’s hostile neighbours.

It is therefore necessary to re-visit the NPR-NRC process, and the laws and rules which govern them, to understand their effect on people and societies, and their national security repercussions.

A National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC)

Government of India’s intention of creating a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) was expressed by Hon’ble Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Lok Sabha on 21.4.2015 in response to Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No.4380 of 26.11.2014. It reads: “The Citizenship Act, 1955 [as amended by the Amendment Act 2003] provides the Central Government to compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue National Identity Card to him. It has been decided that National Population Register (NPR) should be completed and taken to its logical conclusion, which is the creation of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) and National Identity Cards would be issued to Citizens by verification of citizenship status of every usual resident in the NPR”. Also: ”The National Population Register (NPR) is a Register of Usual Residents. It would contain citizens as well as non-citizens. The objective of creating a NPR is to net all usual residents of the country at a given point of time. This would serve as the mother database for creating the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) by verifying the citizenship status of each and every resident”.

The Hon’ble Minister did not mention that issue of National Identity Cards was according to the Citizenship Amendment Act 2003 — effective January 7, 2004 — which made substantive changes to the principal Act of 1955.

Creation of NRIC

The process of creation of NRIC is according to the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. The method of enumeration is laid down in “Instruction Manual for Updation of National Population Register (NPR), 2020”.
Lower-rung local officials are appointed as Local Registrar of Citizen Registration, in addition to their normal duties. They are empowered to gather details of locally residing persons by door-to-door visits, and prepare a Population Register. After “due verification of details” of the persons listed in the Population Register, the Local Registrar prepares a Local Register of Indian Citizens.

During the verification process, particulars of individuals whose citizenship is “doubtful”, are entered by the Local Registrar with “an appropriate remark” in the Population Register, for further inquiry. In cases of doubtful citizenship, the individual or the family are informed after the verification process is over.

Doubt regarding citizenship of an individual can be because of the Local Registrar’s assessment of documents produced, or because of an objection by a third party against inclusion of his/her name. While a “doubtful” citizen has provision of appeal, perversely, the Rules actually invite objections [Rule 4(6)] to inclusion of a name, even privileging an objector as an “aggrieved person” [Rule 4(7)] with opportunity to appeal against the appeal by the “doubtful” citizen.

Hardship for people 

The primary document to prove citizenship is a Birth Certificate. According to 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 62.3% of children under 5-years age had birth certificates. The absolute numbers of 37.7% who did not, are in millions. A Press Information Bureau statement of 20 December 2019, concerning NRC, reads: “If you do not have the details of your birth, then you will have to provide the same details about your parents”. Thus, millions of today’s adults, the children of yesteryears, do not have birth certificates. A child would understand the utter impracticability of such a requirement. Anyone who knows how government offices function, will agree that touts, middlemen and corrupt officials are sure to make under-the-table fortunes providing Birth Certificates.

Just two examples of the practical difficulties citizens may face in the NPR process [Ref.1] are:

# For entry of date and place of birth in NRC, people must produce documentary proof. Apart from millions of people who have no Birth Certificate, many do not even know their date of birth. Others have certificates like: “Male child (without name) born to (mother’s name) on (date)”. Women have birth certificate in their maiden name, not matching with her married name, requiring production of additional documents. Millions of people have never had documents prepared, or have lost them during flood/earthquake/accident. Or there are discrepancies between documents, like spelling errors. All these provide ample opportunity to many local officials to exercise their (purchaseable) discretion.

# A person marked “doubtful” in NPR needs to appeal within 30-days at two levels of appeal. Millions of poor people will be marked “doubtful” for defect in documentation. Their travails in traveling to offices which could be hundreds of kilometres from their homes, and their fears for themselves and their children can only be imagined. Families have been fractured due to only some members passing the NPR-NRC test. Assam’s NRC experience shows that people have even sold their land to travel to and live in the centres of appeal.

The NPR-NRC process puts the entire population to hardship and expense to obtain certificates, appear before government officials, etc., and undergo the mental tension of uncertainty until their names are confirmed as included in NRC. There is also the combined ill-effect of lakhs of people’s multiple visits to distant towns on their personal finances (travel-stay-food-etc. and income loss due absence from occupation/job), the downstream effect on families, especially children, the loss of productivity and effect on the economy, and the opportunity to touts and middlemen to “produce” documents acceptable to corruptible officials.

The NPR-NRC process puts all of India’s population to untold trouble, misery, expense and loss, to produce documents to officials, to have his/her name included in NRC. The process is prone to error and misuse of official power, and violative of the dignity of the individual.

Impractical illogic 

Undoubtedly, large numbers of people in some border states are illegal migrants, and they must certainly be identified and dealt with according to law. However, the outcomes of the nation-wide NPR-NRC process will be seriously debilitating from the social and economic perspectives, from local through state to the national level, with extremely serious consequences for individuals. In order to identify illegal migrants, there is little justification to require the entire population to individually prove their citizenship, according to Rules which are loaded with infirmities.

One is reminded of Rabindranath Tagore’s amusing children’s story “Juta abishkar”. It is about a king who, instead of wearing footwear to keep his own feet clean, wanted his ministers to make his entire kingdom dust-free. The story demonstrates that lack of understanding of a problem leads to suggesting illogical and impractical solutions.
A police officer summoning the entire population of the mohalla to the station to prove their innocence regarding an illegality committed in that mohalla, in order to find the culprit, is similarly illogical and impractical.

The above examples amply demonstrate the illogic of the NPR-NRC process. Governments, with their administrative organization, public finance, intelligence capacity, police, etc., have the onus and the means of detecting illegal residents. Instead, government uses the NPR-NRC process to shift its onus of proving illegality of residence of the few, onto the population. The perverse logic obliges each individual of the entire population to prove that he/she is not an illegal migrant, based upon producing a piece of paper certified by an official, before other officials, all of unproven integrity. Even worse, the Rules encourage people to report with impunity on others for their exclusion from NRC.

Social tensions are sure to intensify as millions jostle to procure documents which they do not possess, in order to satisfy officials with huge discretionary powers. Their success or failure will determine their identity as citizens or non-citizens with consequent effects on their progeny, livelihoods and property. The stakes are enormous for every individual.

National security

Implementation of NPR-NRC can rupture our social fabric. When social fabric suffers rupture, law and order situations multiply, requiring security forces deployment. Our experience with disruption of social fabric is not recent. The Indian Army has been deployed for internal security (IS) duties since 1950, because the political-bureaucratic-police trio declared entire states as “disturbed” continuously for decades, having failed to handle the situations created by their own mishandling.

If the NPR-NRC process is pressed country-wide, the proportion of the army deployed on IS duties may well increase, due to increased social tensions especially in border states. This will further deplete its strength committed to its primary role of defence against external aggression, to preserve national sovereignty and territorial integrity.


People numbering in millions, whose names are excluded from NRC will be aliens, consigned to Detention Centres. While in detention, each person has to prove that he/she is actually a citizen of country X or Y. Once again, huge opportunity for touts and middlemen right up to foreign embassies, to provide “authentic” documentation that he/she is from country X or Y, to satisfy officials who excluded them from NRC.
Those who cannot manage to “find” home-country proof, will remain in detention. Even those who manage to “prove” that they are from country X, will have to remain in detention until country X accepts their “re-entry” by deportation, another kettle of fish.
In any case, governments will be spending money (public funds, if there is doubt) for indefinite daily upkeep of millions of people who were earlier living on the basis of their self-employment, job or occupation.

Coming to CAA-2019, those who manage to prove citizenship of country X, “shall not be treated as illegal migrant”, and can get Indian citizenship, if three conditions are met:

1. Country X is Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan — other neighbours not named, and
2. Prove Hindu/ Sikh/ Buddhist/ Jain/ Parsi/ Christian religion — excepting Islam, and
3. Prove entry into India before 31 December 2014, and having lived inside India for 5-years.

Nation-wide NPR-NRC will involve many tens of millions of people of all ages, who will face exclusion. If the cost-time of Assam’s NPR-NRC exercise (₹1,220 crores, 5-years) is any guide, the aggregated cost-time and economic effect of 28 States and 8 UTs on a floundering post-Covid economy can be imagined. The effect of CAA-2019 is another matter.

It is doubtful if successive governments have thought-through the social, economic and national security repercussions of NPR-NRC and CAA-2019.

NPR-NRC should be dropped 

Petitioners have questioned the constitutionality of CAA-2019 in the Hon’ble Supreme Court (HSC), praying that the law be struck down. At the last hearing in March 2020, HSC ruled that it needs to hear Government on the issue before taking a decision. Government is clearly in no hurry to present its defence of CAA-2019 before HSC.
Whether HSC eventually rules in favour of the petitioners or not, government forcing NPR-NRC on people will have serious deleterious social, economic and security effects, which will haunt our country for decades.

Nobody can pretend that the illegal migrant problem can be easily solved. However, enforcing NPR-NRC, crowned by CAA-2019, may be the wrong way to go about it. State and central governments would do well to honestly use their intelligence agencies to identify and apprehend illegal migrants, instead of resorting to the expensive, disruptive, impractical illogic of NPR-NRC conceived in air-conditioned offices. Funds saved will improve people’s quality of life when utilised for the long-neglected Health, Food, Agriculture, Welfare and Education sectors, especially in Covid times. It will bring peace to our society.


1. Vombatkere, S.G.; “NPR-NRC-CAA: The Troubling Triad”,, March 2, 2020 HYPERLINK ""

**Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere, VSM, writes on subjects of development and strategy

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