FOR BETTER OR WORSE

FOR BETTER OR WORSE
01 Feb 2020

From replacing questions on PAN card with those on mother tongue for the National Population Register, to making efforts towards tweaking the electoral law, the Narendra Modi government continues its commitment towards change

PAN card details being asked during National Population Register (NPR)-2020 pretest have been removed from the list of a questionnaire to be prepared for the final exercise and a new question seeking information about "mother tongue" has been added to it, Home Ministry sources said.

The decision was taken by the Registrar General of India (RGI) after witnessing people showing "hesitation" while sharing PAN card details to the enumerators during the Pretest of the exercise conducted between August 12 and September 30, 2019.

RGI is the nodal agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs which would conduct NPR-2020 exercise along with first phase of Census-2021 scheduled between April 1 and September 30 this year.

"To avoid people's discomfort and making the whole process easily acceptable for all, the decision was taken to remove a question seeking PAN card details. However, a new question regarding the mother tongue has been included in the list of questionnaire form for NPR," an official said.

However, other questions that seek details of mobile number, Aadhaar number, Voter ID card number, driving licence number, date of birth, birthplace, last place of residence and parents name among others will be intact in the list.

The official said that details of Aadhaar, Voter ID, driving license and mobile number is "voluntary", there is a provision to penalise if anyone gives wrong information.

As the final list of around 17-18 questions, which is expected to be included in the final NPR form, has not been decided yet, more changes can be done by the RGI just before the beginning of the mammoth exercise, said the official privy to the development.

Responding to a question, the official said notification regarding the final NPR questionnaire is not necessary to be issued.

The Pretest run of NPR faced criticism from many sections including political parties who alleged that the exercise is a precondition to the preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The official said the pretest run was conducted on 30 lakh people covering over 5,000 blocks and 73 districts across India.

The official said that more than 80 per cent people shared their Aadhaar details during the pretest run of NPR-2020 exercise.

Amid reports that many states decided to oppose NPR, the official said all states and Union Territories have renotified NPR process and many of them have given the date schedule to conduct the exercise in their states.

"West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Ladakh and Puducherry are in the process to declare the 45-day schedule when they will conduct the NPR exercise."

The officer said that the NPR-2020 will be conducted along with the data collected during a similar exercise in 2010 and 2015 by the enumerator.

Asked about differences in the NPR exercise conducted earlier, another officer said that "biometric" details of 30 crore people were taken in 2010 and it was shared with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which generated 27 crore 12-digit Aadhaar number, but it is not being done this time.

"After a particular date in 2016, the biometric details were not collected by the RGI. There will be no biometric and no paper will be sought during the NPR exercise this time."

The NPR was started in 2010 by the UPA government led by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ahead of Census 2011, and the preparation for the pilot project began two years ago when Shivraj Patil (May 22, 2004 to November 30, 2008) and P. Chidambaram (November 30, 2008 to July 31, 2012) were home minister.

Following the terrorist attack in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the Centre decided to create the NPR ahead of 2011 Census in the coastal areas for nine maritime states and four Union Territories.

The Modi government, however, has clarified that "there is no link between NPR and NRC".

NEW CONNECTION

Meanwhile, Union Law Ministry has been working on a Cabinet note to prepare a new law after considering the Election Commission’s proposal to give it statutory backing to collect the Aadhaar numbers of new applicants and existing voters to check multiple entries in the electoral rolls.

The Ministry, sources said, is working to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and is expected to submit the changes before the Cabinet committee, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for its consideration so that a Bill in this regard could be introduced before the Parliament.

The amendments to the Representation of the People Act will require citizens to link their Electoral Photo ID Card (EPIC) with the 12-digit Aadhaar, while ensuring privacy protection.

"The Ministry is busy in preparing a Cabinet note considering Election Commission’s proposal to tweak the electoral law," an official requesting anonymity revealed.

The official said it is not yet decided by the Law Ministry when it will present the note before the Cabinet, but indicated that it can be put before or during the budget session – which will commence on January 31 and subject to the exigencies of government business, is likely to conclude on April 3 with a 19-day recess in between.

In a letter to the Law Ministry, the Election Commission in August last year proposed that provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 be amended to allow it to seek Aadhaar numbers of those applying to be voters and those who are already part of the electoral rolls.

As per EC’s proposal, the electoral law should be amended to empower electoral registration officers to seek Aadhaar number of existing voters as well as of those applying to get their names on the voters’ list. Seeking to check multiple entries in the electoral rolls and to make them error-free, Election Commission had in 2015 embarked on an ambitious National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) project to link Aadhaar numbers with the voters’ electoral data to check multiple entries in electoral rolls.

The Commission on January 23, 2015 issued a letter to the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories (UTs) to collect Aadhaar number from the applicants under its NERPAP project activities which were launched on March 3, 2015. In the letter, poll panel had stressed that "one of the major objectives of the NERPAP was the linking and authentication of the EPIC data of electors with Aadhaar data of UIDAI".

The poll panel functionary had to stop the project following a Supreme Court’s August 11, 2015 order clearing that sanction of law is required to collect the Aadhaar numbers. By that time, it had covered nearly 380 million voters. India currently has more than 750 million registered voters.

The Apex court issued the order while considering a writ petition, mentioning: "The production of an Aadhaar card will not be a condition for obtaining any benefit otherwise due to a citizen.

"The unique identification number or the Aadhaar card will not be used by the respondents for any purpose other than the PDS scheme and in particular for the purpose of distribution of foodgrains, etc. and cooking fuel, such as kerosene. The Aadhaar card may also be used for the purpose of the LPG distribution scheme.

"The information about an individual obtained by the Unique Identification Authority of India while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation," the court order mentioned.

In light of the order, the Commission in its August 13, 2015 order to the Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories declared that activities relative to the "collection, feeding, seeding" of the Aadhaar numbers being undertaken under the NERPAP "shall be suspended with immediate effect till further direction".

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