The Supreme Court Monday sought the Centre's response on a plea challenging the constitutional validity of amended citizenship law and updation of the National Population Register (NPR), saying the data collection may lead to "unsanctioned state surveillance" and "is a gross invasion of privacy".
A bench, comprising Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant, issued notice to the Centre on the PIL which also challenged the rules made in 2003 for registration of citizens and issuance of National Identity Cards.
The plea, filed by Udagar Ram, Bimalesh Kumar Yadav and Sanjay Safi, has said that the NPR updation is "arbitrary" as it puts citizens, non-citizens and persons seeking overseas citizenship "at par" asking the same information from the entire population residing within the country.
It has challenged the vires of Section 14-A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which was inserted through an amendment in 2004 on the ground that this provision empowered the Centre to "compulsorily register" every citizen of India and to issue national identity card to one.
"The central government does not have a stated need to prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) for which the creation and updation of a Population Register is first step," the plea said.
"The information being collected for the updation of the NPR may lead to unsanctioned State surveillance or unauthorized access by other arms of the State or even unauthorized access by third parties leading to grave misuse," it said.
It said the updation of NPR would amount to different expenditure from that incurred in taking Census and added that the Cabinet has approved Rs 8,754 crore for the 2021 Census and an additional sum of Rs 3,941 crore for updation of NPR.
The plea also said that the exercise of NPR assumes that people in India are not its citizens and shifts the onus of proving citizenship on the person itself.
"The exercise of updation of the NPR by deeming fiction assumes that all the persons residing within the territory of India are not citizens of India and shifts the onus to the person to disclose information to prove their citizenship. This is seemingly done, without an investigation by the State to establish that the person is engaged in an unlawful activity," the petition said.
The plea alleged that the questions asked under Census, do not offend the privacy of person, however, the information sought for updation of NPR is intrusive.
It also alleged that neither the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 nor the NPR Manual, 2020 specify a robust system to ensure that the data collected will be protected against misuse.
"The entire exercise of creation and updation of the National Population Register is a gross invasion of privacy of private citizens. The nature of the exercise is manifestly arbitrary with no grounds doubtfulness being specified apart from no guarantee of protection and security of the data/information so collected. Such a database would erode basic freedoms that the persons within India currently enjoy," the plea said.