NPR / NRC: This Paper Tiger has real teeth!

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NPR / NRC: This Paper Tiger has real teeth!

NPR / NRC: This Paper Tiger has real teeth!

Brian Fernandes   ¦    Jan 14, 2020 06:12:31 PM (IST)

NPR / NRC: This Paper Tiger has real teeth!-1There have been alternating and often conflicting claims by the Indian Union's PM and HM (the rest in the Government are rather silent) on the implementation of the three popular acronyms of the day - CAA, NPR, and NRC at the national level.

It is now universally known that the CAA was brought into play to heal the wounds of the NRC exercise in Assam, where 2/3rds of those deemed stateless (1.9 Million) by the exercise form the voter base and raison d'etre of the ruling party in the state and at the center.

Having found a magic wand to obliterate the sins of the Assam NRC in their favor, the Center decided to extend the NRC across the country and kill two birds with one stone. And they might succeed despite the concerted opposition from the youth, if not the political opposition. This is evident from the fact that the first part of the Alphabet trilogy - CAA, NPR & NRC, all with the same star cast, has already been put in place with the notification of the CAA in January.

Paper tiger with real teeth!
But the NRC, like all other identification mechanisms before it, will be a bureaucratic exercise which will involve long queues, harassment, and superiority complexes on the part of those on the other side of the table - It has been experienced before and citizens will have to go through it again - there is no doubt on that score.

Interestingly, the exercise may also be outsourced like the AADHAR card to agencies that are incompetent and employ interestingly the same 'illegal migrants' they wish to identify, at low cost, to carry out the exercise. Indeed, those who are in charge of establishing the citizenship of others might do well to establish their own credibility first. But will that happen? Unlikely.

Be that as it may, with the Government sticking to its position on carrying out the NRC, concern has now shifted to the process implications for an individual. How complex will it be? Will there be harassment? Home Minister Amit Shah answered these questions in the negative on November 21, when he told Parliament that "nobody needs to be scared of the exercise because it is just a process.”

Unlike in the West, where Paper Work is at the heart of a toilet process, in India, it is at the heart of every Government Citizen Interface and (as always) it is bound to be a dangerous, tedious, and worrisome exercise that might well cause an explosive requirement of funds under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme.

This is because, under the exercise, every citizen will be considered not a citizen until proven a citizen and there will be constant and consistent doubting of all documents produced to cement an individual's rightful relationship with his nation. This has been every citizen's nightmarish experience while visiting a government office, the doubting Thomases will be sitting at every table for the NRC for that could be a promotional avenue much like it is in the tax departments of the state.

Self Identification as Indians will require the attestation of the bureaucracy to legitimize it. But for this evidence will have to be produced. What is the nature of evidence required is yet to be firmed up and notified, but if it is akin to the Assam requirements, it will be well nigh impossible for most to produce. Then there is the question of authenticity. The question of establishing authentic proof in the form of trustworthy documents becomes particularly intense when the bureaucracy deals with IDs or any form of documentation that confers benefits (from taxpayer funds) to citizens. Of course, the marginalized will be badly hit both financially and emotionally for they will have to depend on touts and agents to compile the paperwork and many may overnight go from rightful ration cardholders to begging for handouts in the proposed detention centers. Terrorism to prevent terrorism?

Doubtful Citizenry
The process for the writing of the National Population Register (NPR) is already in place. The NPR a precursor to the nation-wide NRC. The NPR process was kick-started with a gazette notification on July 31, 2019. The notification said: "In pursuance of sub-rule (4) of rule 3 of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, the Central Government hereby decides to prepare and update the Population Register (PR) and the fieldwork for house to house enumeration throughout the country except for Assam for collection of information relating to all persons who are usually residing within the jurisdiction of local registrar shall be undertaken between the 1st day of April 2020 to 30th September 2020."

Sub-rule (4) of Rule 4 of the 2003 Rules makes it very clear what will happen during this verification and scrutiny process: "During the verification process, particulars of such individuals, whose citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered by the local registrar with appropriate remark in the population register for further inquiry and in case of doubtful citizenship, the individual or the family shall be informed in a specified proforma immediately after the verification process is over." "doubtful citizens" will be marked out in the population register for further inquiry and then family members would be informed, "in a specified Pro-forma".

The whole process seems arbitrary given that it is not clear on what basis "doubtful citizens" will be identified or marked out and that the "specified Pro-forma" is not yet in the public domain.

Once identified under the NPR as a 'doubtful citizen' the pressure can only build. From then on he will have to possibly liquidate his life savings and then some to prove himself a bona fide citizen. Meanwhile whatever benefits he is getting from the state including the right to vote may be suspended, though nothing is clear as of this moment. What effect it will have on the health of the doubtful citizen and his family is anybody's guess.

There is a further twist in the tale. Once a name appears on the draft of the local register of citizens, Other citizens are allowed to raise an objection to the individual's name being added on the draft of the Local Register of Indian citizens. Such an objection can be made within 30 days of the draft being published after which the sub-district or Taluk Registrar will have three months to consider the objection to the inclusion of objected name in the local register before they send it upwards in the state hierarchy to the district register, which will further move the list up to the National Register of Indian Citizens. Someone will get to play God in this process and boy, will they enjoy it!

The paper tiger with real teeth of course, that is the Indian bureaucracy, has one more ace up its hide - proceduralism. The papers may be in order, but if the protocol of submission - the proper channel - is not followed they can easily be rejected on those grounds. Most of these procedures are set up on orders from above, some written and misinterpreted, some through Chinese whispers, which mangle the original 'simple' procedure handed down from above. But one can rest assured that no government procedure follows the KISS principle. That's an obscene word in government circles.

Fundamental Questions on the NRC Excercise
Once the process is complete, it is presumed - that is word going around - that the illegal migrants will be deported to where they came from and in the interim will be housed in detention camps being built across the nation. But this presumption raises three fundamental questions. 1) What is the cost and duration of maintaining these detention centers or is there a pre-determined final solution? 2) With the borders still porous, what prevents better prepared (document wise) migrants from entering the country? – Are we putting the cart before the horse; and most importantly, if unauthentic citizens have voted and elected the government that is carrying out this exercise – is it legitimate in the eyes of the law?