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A Matter of Life & Death

In order to update the National Population Register, the centre may come out with a Bill that proposes that the Registrar General of India maintain a national database of births and deaths.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has proposed a Bill to amend the Registration of Birth and Death (RBD) Act, 1969. This is likely to be tabled in the Winter Session of Parliament that commenced on December 7, 2022. The Bill proposes that the Registrar General of India maintain a database of births and deaths and utilise that to update the National Population Register (NPR). 

A new Section, 3A, in the Act states that the Registrar General shall maintain the database at the national level, and it may be used with the approval of the government to update the Population Register prepared under the Citizenship Act, 1955; electoral registers or electoral rolls prepared under the Representation of People Act, 1951; Aadhaar database prepared under Aadhaar Act, 2016; ration card database prepared under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA); passport database prepared under the Passport Act, driving license database under the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, and other databases at the national level subject to proviso of Section 17 (1) of the RBD Act, 1969.

The draft Bill has also proposed an amendment in Section 4. Section 4A proposes that the chief registrar shall take steps to maintain a unified database of civil registration records at the state level, and integrate it with the database at the national level maintained by the Registrar General. 

Further, Sub-section 7(5) of the RBD Act has been amended as follows:

“(5) The Registrar may, with the prior approval of the Chief Registrar, appoint (a) Sub-Registrars and assign to them any or all of his powers and duties in relation to specified areas within his jurisdiction.

“(b) Special Sub-Registrars, in the event of disaster, with any or all of his powers and duties for on the spot registration of deaths and issuance of extract thereof, as may be prescribed.”

For those wanting to register births and deaths, they should provide an Aadhaar number, if available. In case of a birth, it should be that of parents and in case of a death, of the deceased, parents, husband or wife as amended in Section 8 of the Act.

Insertions have also been made to accommodate: 

“(aA) In respect of non institutional adoption, the adoptive parents will provide information;

“(aB) in respect of child born to a single parent/unwed mother from her womb, the parent or the nearest relative.

“(dA) in respect of birth of a child taken on adoption from the Specialised Adoption Agency (SAA), the person in charge thereof. (Pre-adoption)

“(dB) In respect of orphan, abandoned, or surrendered child in child care institution, the person in charge or caretaker thereof.”

The government has also amended the word “oldest male” in the house for providing information on birth and death to “oldest person”. It is further proposed that Sub-section 10(2) may be substituted with the following:

“(2) Where the death occurs in any medical institution, irrespective of ownership, providing specialized or general treatment, it shall be mandatory for those institutions to provide a certificate as to the cause of death to the Registrar and a copy to the nearest relative in such form as may be prescribed.”

The Union government has proposed amending Section 12 and fixed a week’s time for issuance of birth and death certificates after information has been received by the concerned authority. 

In Section 17 of the Act that deals with search of births and deaths, Sub-section 17(2A) shall be used to prove the date and place of birth of a person born on or after the date of amendment for—admission into educational institutions; issuance of driving license; preparation of voter list; registration of marriage; appointment in central or state government, local bodies and PSUs, statutory bodies and autonomous bodies under the central and state government.

Section 18 deals with inspection of registration offices and here “District Registrar” is amended as “Chief Registrar”. In Section 23 that deals with penalties for withholding information, the Bill says that the concerned person “shall be punishable with a fine which may extend to two hundred fifty rupees or, in case of institution, with a fine which may extend to one thousand rupees per event of birth or death”.

Section 24 earlier said that “any officer authorised by the Chief Registrar by a general or special order in this behalf may, either before or after the institution of criminal proceedings under this Act, accept from the person who has committed or is reasonably suspected of having committed an offence under this Act, by way of composition of such offence a sum of money not exceeding fifty rupees”. In the proposed amendment Rs 50 has been amended as “exceeding two hundred fifty rupees or in case of institution a sum of money not exceeding one thousand rupees per event of birth or death”.

A new Section, 33, has been inserted and reads:

Provision for Appeal: (1) Any person aggrieved by any action or order of the Registrar may appeal to the District Registrar within 30 days from the date of such action or receipt of such order.

(2) Any person aggrieved by any action or order of the District Registrar may appeal to the Chief Registrar within 30 days from the date of such action or receipt of such order.

The legal framework for NPR is grounded in the Citizenship Act, 1955. In 2003, the Act was amended by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government to introduce the category of “illegal migrant”.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is an official record of those who are legal Indian citizens. It includes demographic information about all those individuals who qualify as citizens of India as per the Citizenship Act, 1955. It is a state-specific exercise and has been conducted only in Assam so far.

According to the Citizenship Rules, 2003, the centre can issue an order to prepare the NPR and create the NRC based on the data gathered in the NPR. In 2010, the NPR was created for the first time with the names of 119 crore residents of India. This data was updated in 2015 by linking with biometric information from the Aadhaar database.

Assam, being a border state having problems of illegal immigration, had a register of citizens created for it in 1951 based on the 1951 census data. However, it was not maintained. The Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act, 1983, was then passed by the central government, creating a separate tribunal process for identifying illegal migrants in Assam. The Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional in 2005, after which the government agreed to update the Assam NRC. The final updated NRC for Assam was published on August 31, 2019. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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