Narendra Modi causes Chidambaram’s identity crisis
By Yatish yadav - NEW DELHI
Published: 17th Jun 2012 09:00:25 AM
After effectively blocking—with the help of other like-minded chief ministers—Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s efforts to set up National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is targeting his pet project of providing identity cards to residents of coastal areas. The Gujarat government, in a letter dated May 29, 2012, has conveyed its displeasure to the Directorate of Census Operations, under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). It categorically states that the verification process and social vetting of data collected in coastal villages is not foolproof and the Centre should not distribute the hi-tech Resident Identity Card (RIC), popularly known as a ‘Smart Card’. This is not Modi’s first missive on this issue; the Gujarat government had sent a letter in 2010 criticising the MHA for not convening a meeting as desired by Modi on this issue. “The Government of India is yet to send clarification/communication with respect to the apprehensions raised by CM regarding the process of social vetting by Gram Sabha in NPR process,” the letter said.
Gujarat is a terrorism-sensitive state, especially after the 2002 riots, and Modi is one of the most heavily guarded individuals in India. As no other states with coastlines—Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha, Maharashtra or West Bengal—have objected to RICs, Modi’s opposition seems to be a shrewd move to further position himself as a champion of Gujaratis ahead of the state elections, besides projecting himself as a leader capable of taking on solo, the powerful home minister and the UPA Government, using the smart card issue.
These cards are to be handed to citizens through the National Population Register (NPR). They are studded with microprocessor chips imbedded with biometrics data. Each one contains info on 15 identifiable characteristics of an individual, which goes into a national database. The information bank can be accessed anytime by government’s security and intelligence agencies for real time actionable intelligence. The Centre plans to collate the data of 1.2 crore persons in all 3,331 coastal villages across 13 states and UTs.
In July 2009, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the Centre had decided to prepare a population register of individuals living in all nine coastal states and four UTs. Gujarat and Maharashtra, particularly, are sensitive coastal zones. Gujarat has the longest coastline among states with a population of more than 10 lakh, and is strategically important for internal security. India’s total coastline extends to 7,516 kilometres.
Unlike with NCTC, Modi has decided to go it alone against the project by demanding a meeting and consensus of all stakeholders on this issue before the government decides to go ahead and distribute cards in Gujarat. Gujarat had also asked the MHA for a meeting of all home secretaries and Director Generals of Police of coastal states to evolve a secure and robust methodology for verification of citizenship status. The state government is perhaps wary of the present process of registration, which seems to have loopholes on verifying documents produced by the individuals.
“We have covered all 3,331 villages in nine states and four union territories between April and September 2010 and also started the distribution of smart cards in 2012 with the help of the Department of Post and Telegraph. In January this year, the Home Minister launched the first phase of distribution from Andaman and Nicobar followed by Tamil Nadu and Kerala. These states have not raised any objection. We are now moving on to other states and union territories and hope to finish the process in another year,” sources said.
The database drive for NPR was conducted in Gujarat in 2009-2010. It had covered 663 villages along the state’s 1,600-km coastline. Sources said the Gujarat government stopped the collection of biometrics in July 2011 after which Chidambaram requested Modi to cooperate on the completion of the project. But Modi is sticking to his guns.