Explained: 6 Questions You’ve Always Had About Aadhaar, NPR & NRC

Why do we need an NPR if Aadhaar exists? Is NPR like a glorified Census and nothing else? 

Updated19 Jan 2020, 03:57 PM IST
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Towards the end of December, the Centre announced that it had approved Rs 3,941 crore for updating the National Population Register, or NPR. The NPR was notified by the Modi government back in August 2019, and the collection of information for it is scheduled to take place between March and September 2020.

The NPR has become a key point of conflict in the debate over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and the National Register of Citizens. But why are there concerns over the NPR and its link with Aadhaar? How does this all tie in with the NRC? Could people’s voting rights be at stake?

The Quint speaks to cybersecurity expert Srinivas Kodali to answer six questions you’ve always had about Aadhaar, NPR & NRC.

Okay, Why Do We Need a National Population Register?

The requirement for a National Population Register is because India doesn't have a robust civil registration system. And we are prone geopoitically to attacks; whether it's wars or terrorist attacks. The first time NPR was proposed was after the Kargil war in 2003, when the Kargil war review committee realised that they couldn't identify Pakistan army men entering India in civilian clothes. And NPR started getting traction after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks when Pakistani terrorists entered India posing as Indian fishermen and hijacking a fishing trawler.

That’s Great. But Don’t We Already Have Aadhaar for That?

So, the Aadhaar project and the NPR project are very similar. Both of them have been implemented simultaneously. If you look at the Cabinet Committee on UID which integrated both of them, they recognised that both were similar. But they used two different approaches. The NPR used verification because it was conducted by the MHA, while in case of the Aadhaar project, one could just go give their details and Aadhaar would be made. There was not enough verification being done because it was being done by the private sector. So what's happening right now is that you're trying to verify everyone whose data was already a collected part of the Aadhaar project.

So, What’s the Difference Between Aadhaar & NPR?

Aadhaar is not a citizenship ID, it's a unique ID. The NPR ID or rather the multipurpose national identity cards which were initially issued under the NPR were smart cards. And they were issued to citizens. They were not issued to any foreign citizens. At the same time, one must understand that, with the Aadhaar project growing, NPR IDs started becoming Aadhaar IDs. Even the Registrar General of India was doing it. They started issuing Aadhaar instead of the multi-purpose national ID cards. Eventually all of this has been mixed, and there's not much of a difference there. Except, NPR is a database and Aadhaar is an ID card.

Is NPR Like a Glorified Census, Then?

NPR is similar to Census. The Census is an age-old exercise, it started in 1872 in India and we have been carrying it out under the Census Act of 1948. NPR is sort of a real time population database. So it's killing the Census. It is taking over the Census too because Census is carried out every 10 years. So what you'll potentially see from now is, everything will be linked to create what is called the real-time Census. This is the National Population Register. But at the same time, there are advantages and disadvantages to it. The advantages are that you don't have to do it every 10 years, and the disadvantages are, because you're linking something to it, the power that someone inside the Ministry of Home Affairs gets over it.

Okay, So What Connection Does NPR & Aadhaar Have with Proposed Nationwide NRC?

The NPR project is the mother database for the National Register of Citizens. This has been stated multiple times by the Home Minister himself and the other ministers of state in the Parliament. So, to get a National Register of Citizens, you must have a National Population Register. And, in that, you filter who are citizens and who are residents, who have immigrated to India and who are foreigners working with work visas. So, you would need the NPR to get the NRC.

Got It. But Without the Nationwide NRC, What’s the Role of the NPR?

Even without a nationwide NRC, NPR is essentially a large database about everyone in the country and where they are from. And it can help anyone with access to the data understand a lot of geopolitical dynamics in the state. So you will know where people are living, who they are, what caste they are.

It's important to understand, because even though you can say that NPR doesn't have caste data, by linking Aadhaar, by allowing other databases to be linked, you're essentially building one more large database which will have all of your details. That could be damaging to vulnerable groups whether it's minorities, whether it's Dalits, tribals. We don't know how this data is going to be used and existence of these larger databases are problematic. We've seen that happen in Nazi Germany, during Apartheid, where ID cards were used to discriminate against people. So we don't know how it's going to affect, but information about an entire population at this scale would be really problematic.

Watch the full conversation with Srinivas Kodali here:

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Published: 15 Jan 2020, 12:36 PM IST
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