New Delhi: In the backdrop of states of Kerala and West Bengal having suspended actions for National Population Register (NPR), the Centre is likely to face legal hurdles that may disempower it from forcing such states to fall in line. In the absence of any mention of NPR in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) passed by the parliament, the rules formulted several years ago for NPR alone may not enjoy legal validity.
Viewed from a legal perspective, NPR rules were framed beyond the legal jurisdiction of the Centre. Therefore, the Centre will not be able to act legally or constitutionally against the states that refuse to comply with the implementation of NPR. As a corollary, if the preparation of the controversial National Register of Citizens (NCR) mentined in the CAA has to materialise, the Centre should be equipped with NPR – and that is set get into this legal entanglement.
The rules for NPR were issued by the Vajpayee government, as The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. But, there was no amendment to the legislation, to serve as enablilng legislation, for framing these rules.
However, since such a register was felt to be helpful to the Centre and states to determine eligible applicants for benefits, there was no objection raised against NPR at that time. But what brought NPR also under the shadow of doubt was the discrimination among sections of the population sought to be created by the government in the new context building up to the NRC.
Government frames rules on the basis and strength of acts passed by parliament. In other words, rules are an addendum to the act, and therefore rules made otherwise do not have legal validity. What should serve as the enabling legislation for NPR are the Citizenship Act and its amendments. But none of them contains any provisions regarding NPR. It is in this context that the NPR actions become ultra vires - beyond the legal power or authority.
This lacuna cannot be corrected without an amendment in an enabling legislation. It is not enough if the government presents before parliament the rules it frames. Courts can strike down such rules that fall outside the jurisdiction of any parent legislation. There are Supreme Court verdicts to the effect that only when the legislature formulates policy and principles does the government derive the authority to frame rules.
As per Article 256 of the Constitution, the states do have an obligation to enforce laws passed by parliament. It is on this basis that Centre contends that the states are bound to implement citizenship laws, including CAA too. If the states do not comply, the Centre can resort to further steps to the extent of dismissing a state government. But the question of NPR is different in that the states are not bound to implement NPR as long as it is not the subject of an act passed by parliament.