There are over 17 lakh homeless people in India, as per the 2011 Census.

How will the homeless prove their citizenship Activists question NPR-NRC process File:PTI
news Governance and policy Monday, December 30, 2019 - 17:24

If one takes a look at the instruction manual given to field workers for updating National Population Register (NPR) 2020, it becomes evident that there is no scope in the data collection drive to record details of the homeless and the destitute across India. The only way through which they would be able to capture their details for NPR according to the manual is if they are found at any 'institutional households'.

On December 24, the Union Cabinet cleared Rs 3941 crore as funding for the National Population Register. Going by the claims of the BJP government at the Centre, the NPR 2020 is the first step towards National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India. The move raises questions as to how the Centre plans to ensure that those Indians living in the streets with little or no documentation to even claim state subsidies are recorded in the NPR.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 (CAA) makes it mandatory that demographic data collected as part of NRC be cross checked with NPR.

With protests breaking out across the nation against the combined impact of CAA-NPR-NRC on Muslims, the Centre appears to have delayed releasing rules to carry out NRC. Efforts to carry out NPR 2020, however, are on, and are expected to be carried out between April and September.

Falling off the grid 

George, a resident of Hyderabad who runs the non-profit Good Samaritans on average rescues about three to four homeless and destitute senior citizens from the streets every week, has only question, “When the homeless don’t have any documents, how will they prove they are Indians?”

The NPR 2020 manual has no answer to this and neither does the office of the Directorate of Census Operations Telangana who were unresponsive for a comment. Both NPR and the NRC are to be carried out by the officials under the office of the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner.

The NPR is to be carried out as per the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 this makes it mandatory for a person to share their demographic data for preparing the population register. Those who do not submit or declare their data to the officials would face fines of Rs 1000 under these rules, unlike the Census drive which is voluntary.Work for both the census 2021 and the NPR (a questionnaire with 14 to 20 questions) will be carried out together.

Section 14 A of the Citizenship Rules allows the central government to create the NRC (also called the NRIC), a register of every citizen of India. The NRC ensures that every Indian citizen with proper documentation would get compulsorily registered. To make this possible, all demographic data recorded has to be verified by officials during their door to door visits as part of the NPR process (as per rule 3(5) of the 2003 citizenship rules).

The officials while collecting demographic data for those living at ‘Institutional Household’ would visit boarding houses, messes, hostels, hotels, rescue homes, observation homes, beggars' homes, jails, ashrams, old age homes, children’s homes, orphanages, etc.

The missing numbers

According to the 2011 Census, there are 4,49,761 houseless households/families and 17,73,040 homeless people in India (52.9 % in urban areas and 47.1% in rural areas).

In 2017, a survey was undertaken by the Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas (MEPMA) in Telangana in an effort to determine how many homeless people there are in the state. But the survey was “random and not specific,” said department officials who refused to share the actual number of homeless persons in the state.

Under the 143 urban local bodies (ULBs) in Telangana, only 53 ULBs have shelters that are meant for the homeless and destitute and an estimated 11,389 residents were living there according to the Telangana Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) department in May this year.

There is no accurate account of how many homeless and destitute are there apart from those at these shelters. Their numbers are recorded only when they get picked up from the streets by the police or are rescued by non-profits, says George, “Many times even if they get put in a shelter leave the place and go back to the streets, only to be picked up again at some other shelter. They get recorded again. Thus the actual number of homeless persons, beggars and destitute anywhere in the country cannot be accurate. It is impractical to ask those who are homeless to prove their Indian citizenship,” he emphasises.

George claims that there are an estimated seven to eight lakh people who are homeless in Telangana alone. “My data is based on the survey done by the MEPMA itself. They took a survey from different organisations at the time, they had identified some 2-3 lakh homeless people in Hyderabad alone,” he adds.

None of the destitute whom George rescues has any documents on them at the time they are brought to shelters. “Most senior citizens we rescue would have been born sometime in the 1950s and 1960s. They are citizens of India but don’t have any documents to prove it. They can’t even claim their rights because of this, they suffer memory loss or some diseases,” he adds.

NRC in Assam

In August 2019, an estimated 19 lakh, people were left out of the final NRC list in Assam. There is scant information from the state as to how the Directorate of Census Operations Assam tackled data collection for the homeless, destitute and beggars in Assam. The officials were unresponsive.

An Assam based non-profit for the homeless and destitute told TNM that the state government has not taken any action on the homeless or destitute whose name didn’t appear in the final NRC list. They have been left in limbo with little or no clarity on what needs to be done next.

“Three years ago, the officials came and did NRC survey. At the time they realised that many of the destitute and those rescued from the streets don’t have documents to prove their identity,” says Utpal Kumar H, who runs the Mother's Old Age Home in Assam’s Guwahati. With 66 senior citizens in the home, the lack of Aadhaar and other documents of those rescued was a problem for him at the time of NRC.

“Many of those whom we rescue are mentally ill or suffer from age-related memory losses, some don’t even know their names. Many of them did not make it to the NRC final list, some of them have died since then due to age related issues. But the government has not yet taken any action on the homeless, they have not been sent to any detention centres yet. There is no clarity on what will happen to them either,” he adds.

Those excluded from the final NRC list can appeal in quasi-judicial courts named Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) and eventually in the High Court or Supreme Court.

A Supreme Court lawyer providing legal aid to those who did not appear in the final NRC list in Assam says the NRC mechanism doesn’t really look at if a person is homeless or destitute, it only looks if a person has documents to prove Indian citizenship. While the nation-wide NRC is yet to frame rules or the list of documents accepted as proof of citizenship, in Assam documents such as Aadhaar were not accepted.

No country for the undocumented

Ansar Tanwir is a Supreme Court lawyer and since 2014 has been providing legal assistance to those impacted by NRC in Assam. He has not come across an instance where a homeless person was sent to a detention centre for being unable to prove their India citizenship but says, “If you see the whole mechanism of NRC, it’s very clear that those who are destitute and poor won’t have any documents to prove their citizenship. I have a case of one Janaluddin, not per se a homeless person but he is an orphan and doesn’t have documents to show his parentage. His father died when he was young and his mother left him after getting remarried. Now as an old man with no documents, he failed to prove his ancestry and for the past three years is in a detention centre,” he narrates.

The lawyer points out that everyone who had to undergo NRC will face troubles that are unique in some way or the other. “There are no common documents that will be missing with everyone but there is a common link that mostly those who didn’t make it to the final list are Muslims and 100% they are poor, even the non-Muslims who are not in the final list are poor,” notes Tanwir. Of the 19 lakh identified as foreigners, 13 lakh are reportedly non-Muslims.

“When NRC comes, no one will raise a voice for the homeless and destitute. Every homeless person will not come under the NRC, it just doesn’t make any sense. What is important is they get their rights and government can give a point of contact where these people can claim their rights,” says George, who added that even for the 18 people that the state government tried to get Aadhaar for at the old age home, 12 died, making the Aadhaar enrollment drive pointless.

“The process by the government to recognise a person as an Indian is taking so much time that they miss out on the benefits of being born an Indian,” says George, adding, “The government won’t have a choice but to let them (homeless, destitute) go. But for now, there is no mention or even a discussion on them with respect to NRC.”

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