December 24, 2019

India to Start Population Register Scorned by Opposition
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said it will start building a comprehensive identity database of all those living in India, amid a growing public uproar over the administration’s move to grant citizenship to undocumented migrants based on religion.The plan to create a National Population Register has been criticized by the opposition as a precursor to countrywide citizens register that, along with a new citizenship law, is driving angry protests across India.The census and national population register is a repeat of a 2010 exercise to list residents and will not require respondents to submit any proof of identity, Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Information & Broadcasting, told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday.The government allotted 130 billion rupees ($1.8 billion) to the population register, which will be part of India’s census exercise to be carried out between April to September 2020, the minister said.“The plan will help the government reach benefits to the targeted beneficiaries,” Javadekar said. “It is self-declaration, no document, proof or biometric will be required because we trust the people.”His comments come as tens of thousands of people across India are protesting the new law which bars undocumented Muslims from three neighboring nations from seeking Indian citizenship while allowing people of other faiths to do so. Taken together the citizenship register and the new law are seen as a way for Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to discriminate against India’s Muslim minority.Despite the widespread protests the government has dug its heels in and is “pushing their luck as far as they can because they know that they can get political dividends in short term. They are not bothered by political protests,” said Neelanjan Sircar, assistant professor at the Ashoka University and visiting senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. The polarizing move may have been made keeping in mind state elections due in Delhi, Bihar and West Bengal next year, he said.While Javadekar on Tuesday denied any links between the two processes, in July 2014 Kiren Rijiju, the then junior home minister in Modi’s cabinet, had told Parliament that the government had decided to create a citizens registry based on the information collected under the NPR exercise. The National Population Register, which is tied to India’s census exercise, is the first step toward a nationwide citizens register, according to a government statement by the previous Congress-led government in 2012.Although details of the links aren’t immediately clear, opposition-ruled states including Kerala and West Bengal have halted all work related to the population register citing a possibility the NPR data could be used for a citizen’s registry.The Kerala government issued a notice on Friday saying work on the register was being stayed considering “apprehension among the general public” following the national register of citizens and the newly changed Citizenship Act, news reports said.(Updates with analyst comment in 7th paragraph.)\--With assistance from Abhijit Roy Chowdhury.To contact the reporters on this story: Archana Chaudhary in New Delhi at achaudhary2@bloomberg.net;Shruti Srivastava in New Delhi at ssrivastav74@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Muneeza NaqviFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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