Press ESC to close

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Lawmakers and bureaucrats messed up citizenship-related issues

In this article – Part V of the series of articles on Citizenship Law – I have discussed how lawmakers and bureaucrats messed up citizenship-related issues.

In Part I of the series of articles on Citizenship Law, I wrote about the changes made from to time in the citizenship law of India and the changing tones of some political parties.…ay-be-disastrous/

Part II summarises arguments for and against CAA of 2019, NPR and NRC. The conclusion is that acceptance of the demand of those opposing CCA, NPR and NRC will have disastrous consequences.…right-about-turn/

In Part III, the issues discussed are (a) whether the battle is legal or political and (b) how long it is likely to last.…itical-not-legal/

In Part IV, I raised and tried to answer a question: Why protests against CAA, NPR and NRC now? Why not earlier?…-npr-and-nrc-now/

If you have read the previous articles, three major failures of lawmakers are bound to haunt you.

(1) Why did the lawmakers of the Vajpayee government not grant citizenship to Hindu refugees in 2003?

Before the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2003 was passed, a Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs headed by Pranab Mukherjee (Congress member of Rajya Sabha) and comprising Kapil Sibal and Motilal Vora of Congress and others had recommended that

 “Indian citizenship should be granted to Bangladeshi and Pakistani minority refugees.”

 “Citizenship should be granted only to Bangladesh minority refugees and not to refugees belonging to majority community.”

During discussion in the Rajya Sabha on December 18, 2003, Dr Manmohan Singh strongly pleaded for grant of citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. The lawmakers of the ruling NDA missed a golden opportunity

It remains a mystery why PM Vajpayee or Home Minister Advani ignored such an important recommendation. I consider it a major failure of the Vajpayee government.

 (2) Was amendment of the Citizenship Act in 2003 necessary for the preparation of NPR and NRC?

A related question is: ‘Is a separate exercise – in addition to Phase II of the Census (census is carried out in two phases) – needed for the preparation of the NPR?’

My reply to both the questions is, ‘NO’. Whatever information is to be collected under the Amendment Act of 2003 and Rules of 2003, can be collected as part of the 10 yearly censuses carried out under the Census act of 1948. Section 8 of the Act authorises the government to decide what information should be collected:

Section 8.   Asking of questions and obligation to answer.

(1) A census officer may ask all such questions of all persons within the limits of the local area for which he is appointed as, by instructions issued in this behalf by the 1 [Central Government] and published in the Official Gazette, he may be directed to ask.

  (2) Every person of whom any question is asked under sub-section (1) shall be legally bound to answer such question to the best of his knowledge or belief.

The census is conducted in two phases: first, house listing and house numbering phase and second, the actual population enumeration phase. Each household is visited and information is collected by specially trained enumerators.

The data for the first (though partial) NPR was collected in 2010 along with the house listing phase (phase I) of Census of India 2011 and updated in 2015 by conducting a door-to-door survey. The next exercise (updating and addition) will be carried out along with the house listing phase of Census 2021 between April and September 2020 in all the States/UTs except Assam. Gazette notification to that effect was issued on July 31, 2019.

Look at the Table below about information collected/required under the two Acts

Census 2011 (population enumeration under phase 2 of Census as per Gazette notification dated August 31, 2010) NPR 2010 (information collected under phase 1 of Census 2011) NRC (information required under Citizenship Rules, 2003)
S. No. Information collected S. No. Information collected S. No. Information to be entered
(a) (b) (c)
1 Name of the person 1 Name of person


1 Name of person


2 Relationship to head 2 Relationship to head of family
3 Sex 3 Sex 2 Sex
4 Date of birth and age 4 Date of birth 3 Date of birth
5 Place of birth [S. No. 23 of Col (a)] 4  Place of birth
5 Current marital status 6 Marital status 5 Marital status
6 Age of marriage 7 Spouse’s name (if married)*
7 Religion 8   Father’s name* 6   Father’s name
8 Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (name of SC/ST) 9    Mother’s name* 7    Mother’s name
9 Disability  10 Nationality (as declared)* 8  Visible identification mark
10 Mother tongue 11 Present residential address 9  Present and permanent residential address
11 Other language known  12 Permanent residential address 10  Date of registration of Citizen
12 Literacy status 13 Duration of stay at present address [S. No. 26 of Col (a)]  11  Serial number of registration
13 Status of attendance in educational institution 14 Occupation/activity [S. No. 17 of Col (a)] 12  National Identity Number
14 Highest level of education attained  15  Educational qualification
Additional information for NPR 2020
Details of father, mother and spouse

If father, mother and spouse not enumerated earlier, write their Name, date of birth and place of birth.

If available

1.  Adhaar number; 2. Mobile number

3. Voter ID card number, 4. Driving licence number

15 Characteristics of workers and nonworkers-work any time during last year (for main, marginal and non-workers)
16 Category of economic activity
17 Occupation
18 Nature of industry, trade or service
19 Class of workers
20 Non-economic activity (for marginal and non-worker)
21 Seeking or available for work (for marginal and non-worker)
22 Travel to place of work
23 Migration characteristics – Birthplace
24 Place of last residence
25 Reason for migration
26 Duration of stay in this village/town since migration
27 Fertility particulars – children surviving:
28 Children ever born alive
29 Number of children born alive during last one year
List of information for the second phase of Census 2021 not yet released.
  • Not included in Col. (a)

Incidentally, anyone who has prepared a list of information to be kept in the NRC has worked very carelessly. Information about “Visible Mark of Identification” required for the NRC is not included in the population register.

(There would be a genuine problem even for educated persons, especially senior citizens, to furnish information about date and place of birth of their parents who died several years ago.)

There is nothing in the NPR that cannot be part of phase 2 of 10 yearly censuses, not even nationality. At stated above, the 1948 Act empowers the government to decide the information to be collected. In 1961 census, information about nationality was collected, though not thereafter. Since Census 1991 information about the country of birth and last residence has been collected. A simple amendment in the Census rules (not in the 1948 Act) was needed to authorise the Registrar General to prepare population and citizenship registers. There would have been no protest as we are witnessing now. The lawmakers did not do their home work.

I hope, I have made it clear that NPR and NRC could be prepared without a separate exercise. Any information needed can be collected during regular Census. NPR as well as NRC can be easily prepared from the Census data. If information about nationality is needed, that can be included in the schedule (questionnaire) prepared under the 1948 Act

The net result of the implementation of two laws is the duplication of work. Enumerators will visit each household twice, once to collect information under the 2003 Act and again to collect almost the same (presently nationality is not included in the list for the first visit) plus many more particulars under the Census Act, 1948. The Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India will maintain the Census Data under the 1948 Act read with the Rules framed thereunder and NPR and NRC under the 2003 Act read with the Rules framed thereunder. (Visit for duties of Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India under the two Acts.)

The million-dollar question is, why did the NDA government led by A. B. Vajpayee decide to have a separate law for preparation of NPC and NRC? Unless one has access to the official files on the subject, one will never know who mooted the idea. My guess is that it was the brainchild of the then Home Minister L. K. Advani. Every important politician wants to do something for which he will be remembered. Perhaps, Advani wanted to go down in history as the father of the NRC. He would never have expected that one day, even before any government decision to prepare NRC, it will become an excuse for protests against another NDA government.

Perhaps we will never know whether any senior officer advised him against unnecessary duplication of work. My experience of over 37 years in the central government is that rarely any Secretary musters courage to oppose his political master’s proposal. It requires a lot of courage to do so. But it is not impossible.

I was never Secretary in Government of India but on several occasions, I advised Ministers, even Prime Ministers, to drop their unnecessary proposals. Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I failed. Given the space constraint, I would mention two instances.

Sometime in 1985, when I was heading the Project Appraisal Division of the Planning Commission (PC), at about 7:30 PM (I was still in office doing some important work) a member of my staff brought to my notice reply to a Parliament question that had been approved by the Minister and copies of the reply were being cyclostyled for distribution (It was brought to my notice only for permission for overtime because, without my knowledge, my division had been asked to prepare copies of the reply.) An honourable MP wanted to know whether the PC was considering setting up a new division to monitor state government and state public sector projects. The reply, as approved by Secretary and Minister, was that ‘Yes. The PC was considering the proposal.’ I guessed (later my guess was confirmed) that a temporary officer of the PC who had political connections at the highest level, was behind the question as he wanted a new division to be created for him. I rushed with a copy of the reply to PC Secretary and explained to him that (a) the PC was encroaching upon the jurisdiction of the state governments which may refuse to cooperate and (b) a division needed to monitor thousands of projects under implementation in different states could be as big as the PC itself. Fortunately, Secretary realised the mistake and rushed to the Minister. Overnight, the reply was changed to “NO”.

Sometime in 1998, when I was Additional Secretary in charge of monitoring of the central projects in the erstwhile Department of Programme Implementation (DPI), a note came from the PMO that Prime Minister (Vajpayee) wanted to set up a monitoring unit in the PMO and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister (PS to PM) wanted to discuss the modality. Along with DPI Secretary, I was also asked to attend the meeting. In my opinion, it was a wrong proposal because already monitoring was being done at different levels and regular review meetings were being held in the Cabinet Secretariat and sometimes in the PMO. Several Secretaries often complained to me that they had to spend a lot of time because of too much monitoring and too many meetings. I prepared a note pointing out the existing arrangements for monitoring and review meetings, grievances of Secretaries and the futility of setting up one more unit for monitoring. In the end, I suggested that these facts should be brought to PM’s notice. I went to the meeting with that note marked to PS to PM through DPI Secretary. I had not signed the note nor had I told DPI Secretary anything about that. During the meeting, I gave my views to the PS to PM and told him that if he agreed, I would sign the note and request Secretary DPI to forward to him and if he so wished, he could apprise the Prime Minister. PS to PM agreed. I and Secretary signed the note and handed over to him. He must have explained everything to PM because the proposal was dropped.

The relationship between political boss and his Secretary is like relationship between husband and wife. They are expected to correct each other’s mistakes, not to endorse each other’s mistakes.

(3) Did the lawmakers ignore ground realities while making CAA, 2019?

The non-Muslim refugees who came from three Muslim countries because of religious persecution can be granted citizenship even without the CAA, 2019 but the process will be very slow. The purpose of the CAA is to put the process on a fast track.

It took about three and half years to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that became CAA, 2019. The bill was originally introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016. Thereafter it was referred to the Select Committee of the Parliament. After consulting several stakeholders for more than two years, the Committee submitted its report to the Lok Sabha on January 7, 2019. The next day, the Lok Sabha passed it but it got stuck in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA had no majority. The people of north-east, especially Assam, were against the bill because they feared that the rehabilitation of outsiders (Hindus as well as Muslims) in the region would destroy their culture. Already during the Select Committee’s visits, there were massive protests against the bill.

The bill lapsed when the term of the Lok Sabha ended. After the election, the government redrafted the bill that excluded the tribal areas of the north-eastern states. The redrafted bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019. The entire opposition barring AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal, TDP and YSR Congress Party, was up in arms. The house witnessed a trailer of protests continuing since then. An angry Asaduddin Owaisi tore his copy of the bill to register his strong protest. Soon the protests started outside. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 11. We know what has been happening since then.

 Either the government had no clue that the atmosphere was becoming hot or it underestimated the opposition. In my view, it was the failure of the intelligence agencies to apprise the government (or to apprise properly) of the hostile atmosphere building up since the abolition of Article 370 and triple talaq and Supreme Court verdict on Ram temple. It is the job of the intelligence agencies to keep finger on the pulse of the people and apprise the government. Looking back at the events since early December 2019, one can say with certainty that Muslim leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, emerging young headed persons like Sharjeel Imam were making preparations for a showdown; dangerous Islamic organisations like Popular Front of India (PFI) and Rehab Foundation India (RFI) were collecting fund and spreading their tentacles. All the non-NDA political parties have been openly anti-Modi; everything Modi has been doing is wrong in their opinion because their main aim is to win over Muslims.

How come, the intelligence agencies had no idea of what was going on?  The lawmakers of the ruling NDA were doing something without any idea of the consequences.

As the government had redrafted the bill to remove the fears of the north-eastern states, a change in the language of the bill could have taken the steam out of protests. Instead of providing citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three Muslim countries, the bill should have granted citizenship to the refugees who had come to India by December 31, 2014, and were exempted from the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 by the government.

True, it was too late in December 2019 to make such a drastic change but the bill had been pending with the government for months, the period during which Hostilities had been building up and organisations like PFI had been making preparations.

Readers can say that in hindsight everybody is wiser. That is correct but history judges a person by his qualities including foresight and the consequences of his actions. Even for the failure of the intelligence agencies (I assume that they had no information about the mood of the Muslim leaders), I will hold the political leadership responsible. It is the job of leadership to keep efficient and alert intelligence agencies. Modi government had been facing attacks from Muslim leaders since 2014 and needs intelligence input before every decision that may have political repercussion.

To conclude

  • Lawmakers and bureaucrats have messed up citizenship-related issues.
  • The Vajpayee government failed to grant citizenship to Hindu refugees in 2003 when it had strong backing of the Congress and other political parties for it.
  • There was no need to amend the Citizenship Act in 2003 for preparation of NPR and NRC. The objective can be achieved under the existing Census Act 1948 and the rules framed thereunder.
  • The CAA 2019 was made without information about the preparation for nationwide protests. Perhaps, the intelligence agencies failed to apprise the government of what anti-BJP and anti-Modi forces were planning.


I was never an admirer of the Vajpayee government. I was in government service till December 2002 and had closely observed how the government was functioning, inefficiency of several ministers and the poor opinion several senior bureaucrats had of the “half pantwallas”. I have been, I am and I will continue to admire Prime Minister Modi. He is the best Prime Minister India has ever got; after him, we may not get such a Prime Minister for a long time. If I sound critical of him, it is because even the best leader can commit mistakes. That is why Sant Kabir had said:

निंदक नियरे राखिए, ऑंगन कुटी छवाय,

बिन पानी, साबुन बिना, निर्मल करे सुभाय।

(Keep critics close in a cottage in your courtyard,
For they’ll keep you clean without the use of water or soap.


Part VI is about how conspirators to intellectuals have made common cause against NPR…ause-against-npr/

Devendra Narain

Hello, my name is Devendra Narain. I live in Gurugram, Haryana, India. I write serious blogs as well as satires on challenges before us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Never Miss A Story

Get our Weekly recap with the latest news, articles and resources.

Avaliable on