Home minister Rajnath Singh has set a three-year deadline for officials to identify Indian citizens in the country through the National Population Register (NPR) project. The government also wants officials to conduct door-to-door verification across the country and issue NPR cards only to Indian nationals. This is a welcome move as it will not only enable the government to create a national register of Indian citizens for the first time but also facilitate identification of illegal immigrants who pose a threat to India’s security and impose an unnecessary burden on the national economy.
While the primary task of the NPR project is to segregate the Indian nationals from the illegal immigrants, the government’s next logical step now should be to scrap the controversial Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which had been issuing Aadhaar cards to residents of India without Parliament’s sanction, raising serious questions about its impact on national security and citizen’s privacy. The NPR project, conceptualised in 2010 for collection of data of residents, was on several occasions at loggerheads with the UIDAI project as both had overlapping features like biometric identification.
Now that the government has given the NPR project larger powers that include verification as well as linking it to voting rights, there is no reason to continue with the UIDAI. The legality of the UIDAI scheme is already under challenge in the Supreme Court, which has held that the Aadhaar cards issued by it cannot be made mandatory for availing of public services in India and prohibited the UIDAI from sharing biometric data with anyone. The new government has already demonstrated its suspicion of the Aadhaar project by scrapping the cabinet committee on UIDAI. There is no justification for duplicating work and expenditure on collecting similar data and the government will do well to merge the existing data base of the UIDAI with that of NPR to create efficiencies.