Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday assured the state assembly that the National Population Register will not be implemented, but the state will go ahead with the Census process.
As the Congress-led opposition UDF and the treasury benches sparred over the NPR, Pinarayi said the state cannot cancel the Centre's notification asking officials to start the enumeration process.
"But we can stay it. We have stayed the NPR process. Since the opposition leader is insisting, the government will look into it. We stand by the decision that Census will go on. We will not implement NPR. The questionnaire for that is different," the Chief Minister told the house.
The government had in December itself ordered stoppage of all activities in connection with NPR in the state considering 'apprehensions' of the public that it would lead to NRC in the wake of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The opposition trooped out of the House after Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan refused to allow a notice for adjournment motion urging the government to temporarily halt the Census activities until concerns related to the National Population Register (NPR) were cleared.
The UDF MLAs left the hall even as the chief minister assured the House that all activities related to NPR was put on hold and the state government had issued direction to the district collectors to stop all NPR related works.
"The Census work is nothing new to the state. It is a normal process. Information will only be collected for the Census.The chief secretary has also issued directions to district collectors in this regard," Pinarayi said, replying to an adjournment motion moved by Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) MLA K M Shaji.
According to Shaji, NPR and the Census require similar data and it was a huge mistake to say that only the Census activities will take place.
"The state government has claimed that it has decided to avoid two questions from the Census data questionnaire. But the centre itself has said they don't require answers to those questions. The Census ennumerators have been appointed and now they will directly report to the Central Census Commission and not the state government," Shaji said.
He also asked the Chief Minister how he can assure people that NPR will not be carried out when the Centre, which controls Census and NPR works, have not assured the same to the state.
However, the Chief Minister countered Shaji saying opposition's attempt to raise the matter in the House was part of "some agenda" as the state government had made it clear that it will not allow NPR in state.
"I would like to make it clear that no detention camps will be opened in Kerala. Enumeration with regard to NPR will not be implemented. We have issued specific direction on the matter and if any official goes beyond such directions, strong action will be taken," he said.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ramesh Chennithala said they understand the importance of the Census process, but cannot allow it to held without addressing the concerns regarding it.
"We cannot halt Census proceedings. But we cannot simply move forward without addressing the concerns. Until the confusion and the concerns are cleared, we need to stop the Census process," Chennithala said.
The Congress leader also said even though the Chief Minister and his party were of the opinion that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) should not be implemented, two students are now in custody and were being probed by the NIA under UAPA.
The veteran leader later told reporters that they were not against the Census.
"The President of India says NPR will be implemented, Prime Minister says it will not be implemented, while the Home minister says it will be implemented. It is totally confusing.
We need clarity in this matter first," he said.
The state had on January 16 directed all its officials to ensure that NPR was not mentioned while sending the communication on Census 2021.
District collectors were also asked to personally ensure this as the government had in December last year stayed all matters relating to NPR in the state, which were to be conducted along with the first phase of Census operations.
The direction was issued after the government noted that some Census officials were mentioning NPR details also while sending communications related to the 2021 Census.
Meanwhile, MLA Shaji's heated speech in the assembly turned controversial as he made a sexist remark against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. While hitting out at Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, he said, "When the Centre called a meeting regarding NPR, Kerala went for it. But the representatives of West Bengal did not go. Though a woman is ruling the state, she is stronger than men." The remark turned controversial with many members in the assembly pointing it to be sexist. Shaji reportedly apologised for the remark later.