How NPR got stalled in Bengal? A step, activists believe non-BJP states should follow too

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Kolkata: Bengal-based activists working for mass mobilisation for the anti-National Register for Citizenship (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in West Bengal have heaved a sigh of relief as process for National Population Register (NPR) has got stalled in Bengal. But, they feel its just the beginning of their battle against NRC.

When Government of West Bengal Home & Hill Affairs Department, census cell, quietly issued a stay order on all activities related to preparation of National Population Register (NPR) in Kolkata, Howrah and districts of Bengal, some of the activists heaved a sigh of relief, while some chose to be cautious and keep a watch on the promises being made by Bengal’s Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress Supremo Mamata Banerjee, who on December 16, launched her anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and anti- National Register for Citizenship (NRC) movement in West Bengal.

“With the stay order stalling NPR process in Bengal, at the moment it seems like the state will not take part in any activities related to NPR, NRC and CAA. This definitely, is a people friendly decision,” said Tanmay Ghosh, president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, an NGO which has been doing a lot of work at the grassroot level to create mass awareness on NRC, NPR and CAA.

However, Kolkata-based economist and co-convenor of Joint Forum Against NRC, Prasenjit Bose didn’t seem much excited about the stay order. Speaking to eNewsroom, from Delhi, where he was to file a petition against CAA at the Apex Court said, “I am not very happy with the stay order. It’s just a departmental instruction and not a public notification. Let me be clear, it’s the pressure that we have been creating that has made the officials issue this stay order.” He added, “We had been questioning the Chief Minister’s silence on NPR issue, and have even filed a writ petition on December 9, before the Calcutta High Court, challenging the Union Home Ministry notification on NPR as well as relevant provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955. Government of West Bengal is one of the respondents in the case. And hence will have submit its response formally before the before the court.”

Activists in Bengal, point out that NPR in reality is a serious intrusion on privacy and a direct attempt to seek personal data on under the threat of exclusion.

He added, “Coming to the order let me be very clear NPR has been notified by the Union Home Ministry through Gazette Notification on July 31, 2019 under the Citizenship Rules, 2003. The WB government’s communication does not mention any legal provision or rationale. ‘Interest of public order’ is not an acceptable legal argument.”

When asked, why NPR is being termed as illegal by the Forum, he said, “It’s illegal as arbitrary powers have been conferred, without corresponding legal enablement, on officers who could decide people’s fate. It would be over simplified to say that NPR is only about head counting.”

Activists in Bengal, point out that NPR in reality is a serious intrusion on privacy and a direct attempt to seek personal data on under the threat of exclusion.

Echoing a similar sentiment was Altaf Ahmed, general secretary, APDR, said, “We were the first to expose the state government’s double standard. On one hand they were saying that they are anti-NRC and anti CAA and on the other they were training government employees to implement NPR. We had even staged a protest outside the venue in Salt Lake where the training was on.” He added, “The stay order could be and attempt to silence her critics. And since it’s a mere departmental instruction, we will have to keep a watch. You, never know when another letter could be issued to have the officials trained.”

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