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House panel push to I-card for citizens

New Delhi, Aug. 21: The parliamentary consultative committee of the home ministry today discussed providing multipurpose identity cards to all Indians which would help compile a national register of citizens.

Although a census is conducted every 10 years, a proper identity card for genuine citizens has become imperative in a country where illegal influx of foreigners, especially in the eastern parts, is threatening to become a major political and security issue.

The meeting, chaired by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, reviewed the progress of a pilot project launched to issue such cards in select sub-divisions in states like Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Gujarat, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Tripura and Goa.

The project, which began in April, covers approximately 29 lakh people, and is scheduled to be completed in a year’s time.

The influx of foreigners has become a source of worry. The Centre claims that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence has been using the porous eastern border to send in militants.

“Today, it is just not a question of illegal entry of ordinary people but the fear of terrorists getting free entry into the country. The security considerations have made it imperative to have identification papers for genuine citizens,” said an official.

The Group of Ministers, which met after the Kargil incursion in 1999 to review national security, had recommended introduction of identity cards.

“Illegal migration has assumed serious proportions. There should be compulsory registration of citizens and non-citizens living in India. This will facilitate preparation of a national register of citizens. All citizens should be given a multipurpose national identity card and non-citizens should be issued identity cards of a different colour and design. This should be introduced initially in the border districts or may be in a 20-kilometre border belt and extended to the hinterland progressively,” the GoM report on border management had said.

Registrar general and census commissioner J.K. Banthia, who was present at the consultative committee meeting, held a power-point presentation to stress on the urgent need for a citizens register and identity cards, especially in the border areas where it is difficult to distinguish between Indian nationals and illegal foreigners.

While all members of the committee agreed that issuing identity cards for citizens was a good first step, several were worried about harassment of genuine citizens, especially in villages where birth certificates and other data are not commonly available to most people.

Members suggested that “the system of enumeration should be insulated from political pressure and problems of religion, caste and creed considerations”.

Advani assured the committee that all safeguards for successful implementation of the project would be maintained.

He also said that initially there was some hesitation on the part of some state governments regarding the project, but much of these fears were allayed later.

A unanimous decision to go ahead with the identity card scheme was taken at the chief ministers’ conference. It was also endorsed in the last conference of chief secretaries from states, Advani told the members.

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