National Population Registry: Using data and biometrics to prepare an Imprisoned Citizenry

The implementation of UID/Aadhaar and NPR was never a question of duplication; it was a division of work and an attention diversion technique. Both UID/Aadhaar and NPR were one from the design stage itself. Both treat citizens worse than prisoners.

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This is the second part of the six-part series on NPR, NRC, CAA and its links to surveillance. Read the part-1 here.

The Citizenship Act, 1955 is “An Act to provide for the acquisition and determination of Indian citizenship”. The Citizenship Rules, 2009 provides for the creation of a Register of citizens saying, “The Central Government shall maintain a register containing the names and other details of the persons registered or naturalised as a citizen of India”. The Act and the Rules do not provide for the creation of Citizens Register based on biometric data. As a consequence what the Union Home Ministry did under the previous government through NPR is without any legal mandate. According to the Manual of Instructions for filling up of the NPR Household Schedule, 2011 prepared by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner (ORG&CCI), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the objectives of NPR involves “Collection of personal details of all residents of the country and Capture of photograph and fingerprints of all residents who are of age 15 years and above in villages/urban areas.” The data collection for preparation of NPR is undertaken along with the House listing Operations of Census 2011. It categorically states that “NPR will contain the details of all the ‘usual residents’ of the country regardless of whether they are citizens or non-citizens.” If that is the case how can it qualify to be an act under the Citizenship Act and Rules given the fact that the Register will have both citizens and non-citizens?

As per the Manual, NPR’s utility lies in the creation of “a comprehensive identity database in the country. This would not only strengthen the security of the country but also help in better targeting of the benefits and services under the Government schemes/programmes and improve planning.” In such a case isn’t Census itself quite sufficient for it?

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In fact, given the fact that Census Commissioner is supposed to gather the data of population under the Census Act, 1948 on the precondition that it would be kept secret and it will not be revealed even to the courts, when the Census Commissioner who is also the Registrar General of NPR undertakes the collection of Indian residents’ data that includes Indian citizens, a stark case of conflict of interest emerges. This is so because unlike the data collected under the Census Act which is confidential as per Section 15 of the Act, the provisions of the Citizenship Act and the citizenship or nationality Rules that provide the basis for creation of the Register of citizens do not provide for confidentiality. The fact is that there is no mention of capturing biometrics in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship Rules. It is clear that the collection of biometrics is not a statutory requirement. This is not permissible even under the Collection of Statistics Act. But both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and ORG&CCI have been creating the UID/Aadhaar and Aadhaar generating NPR has been collecting biometric data as well.

The implementation of UID/Aadhaar and NPR was never a question of duplication; it was a division of work and an attention diversion technique. Both UID/Aadhaar and NPR were one from the design stage itself. Both treat citizens worse than prisoners.

The Identification of Prisoners Act provides that

“Every person who has been, (a) convicted of any offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year or upwards, or of any offence which would render him liable to enhanced punishment on a subsequent conviction, or (b) ordered to give security for his good behaviour under Section 118 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, shall, if so required, allow his measurements and photograph to be taken by a Police Officer in the prescribed manner.” It further provides that “Any person who has been arrested in connection with an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year or upwards shall, if so required by a police officer, allow his measurements to be taken in the prescribed manner.” As per Section 5 of the Act, “If a Magistrate is satisfied that, for the purposes of any investigation or proceeding under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, it is expedient to direct any person to allow his measurements or photograph to be taken, he may make an order to the effect, and in that case the person to whom the order relates shall be produced or shall attend at the time and place specified in the order and shall allow his measurements or photograph to be taken, as the case may be, by a police officer:”

The biometric measurements which are by law meant for prisoners have been extended to citizens.

Providing for the dignified treatment of the citizens of India, Section 15 of the Census Act establishes that “Records of census not open to inspection nor admissible in evidence”. It reads: No person shall have a right to inspect any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty as such, or any schedule delivered under section 10 and notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, no entry in any such book, register, record or schedule shall be admissible as evidence in any civil proceeding whatsoever or in any criminal proceeding other than a prosecution under this Act or any other law for any act or omission which constitutes an offence under this Act.” Demolishing this dignity of the citizens, the Union Home Ministry is dehumanizing citizens by according them a status inferior to that of prisoners. The merger of the office of the Census Commissioner under the Census Act, 1948 and Register General of India for NPR and NRIC under the Citizenship Act, 1955 is an exercise in structural corruption that is aimed at defeating the requirement of confidentiality under Census Act. This merger may have appeared routine but there is more to it than meets the eye. This aspect has remained unnoticed.

As per Section 7 of Identification of Prisoners Act, “Where any person who, not having been previously convicted of an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year or upwards, has had his measurements taken or has been photographed in accordance with the provisions of this Act is released without trial or discharged or acquitted by any court, all measurements and all photographs (both negatives and copies) so taken shall, unless the court or (in a case where such person is released without trial) the District Magistrate or Sub-divisional Officer for reasons to be recorded in writing otherwise directs, be destroyed or made over to him.”

Gopal Krishna is a public policy and law researcher and convener of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010. He had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing on Finance that examined and trashed the Aadhaar Bill, 2010. He is editor of www.toxicswatch.org. Views expressed are personal. 

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