Multipurpose National Identity Card, recall from 2003

MNIC was started in 2003, then integrated into Aadhaar and now the government is looking to revive it; so what was MNIC in the first place and what role will it play if brought in today?

AadharImage Courtesy: economictimes

Last year, much before the CAA-NPR-NRC mayhem was unleashed, Amit Shah at a public event had touted the idea of “one card” which would get rid of excessive ID cards like Aadhaar, voter card and such others. He had said that if the Census (he made no mention of NPR back then) was done properly and in the right format, it was possible that there could be just one single card in which all the other cards could reside. This idea of his resembles MNIC to a great extent and hence it is important to understand the background of MNIC and the idea behind it.

What is MNIC?

Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) was first suggested by a 2001 report prepared by an empowered Group of Ministers (eGOM) titled, “Reforming the National Security System”.  This GOM was formed as a response to the K Subramanyam-led Kargil Review Committee which was instituted after the Kargil conflict of 1999.

The GOM report had suggested MNIC to counter the growing threat of illegal migration in India. The eGOM held 27 meetings in all. In order to facilitate its work, it had set up 4 Task Forces one each on Intelligence Apparatus, Internal Security, Border Management and Management of Defence. The report had proposed, among other things, MNIC “commencing with all border districts”.

Kargil Review Committee (KRC)

KRC report highlighted the deficiencies in India’s security management system particularly in the areas of Intelligence, Border Management, and Defence Management.

KRC had urged a thorough and expeditious review of the national security system in its entirety.  It further contended that the proposed review should not be undertaken by an ‘over-burdened bureaucracy’ but by an independent body of credible experts, whether a national commission or one or more task forces or otherwise, as expedient.

Reforming the National Security System – the GOM report

Here are some relevant excerpts from the report:

The report, in order to tackle the issue of illegal immigration which was seen as a major threat to national security, suggested compulsory registration of citizens as well as non-citizens in India. This was to be followed by giving the citizens MNIC and to issue identity cards of a different colour and design to non-citizens.

The report also stated that many people from neighbouring countries were tempted to cross over to India in search of better job opportunities and to prevent this in the future there was a suggestion to introduce “work permit for foreigners”.

For effective action against the illegal migrants, Residence Records of villages in the border districts should be prepared and regularly updated.  This will allow easy identification and detection of illegal immigrants, until such time as the scheme of registration of all nationals and non-nationals is introduced.

The report also spoke about grant of citizenship to children of illegal immigrants, “Children born to illegal immigrants living in India are entitled to claim Indian citizenship by virtue of their birth on Indian soil.  Therefore, in principle, Indian Citizenship Act should be amended prohibiting acquisition of citizenship rights by the children of illegal migrants born in India before 1 August 1987.  This would also meet the stipulations of the Assam Accord.  However, as per the advice of the Ministry of Law, the provision can only be introduced with prospective effect.  The MHA should take necessary action.”

There were also talks of enacting a refugee law in India in consultation with other Ministries which would then pave the way for enacting a law for compulsory registration of all Indian national and non-nationals staying in India, should be enacted.  The report said, “This would help in preparing the National Register of Indian Citizens.”

The report does not explain what does category such as, ’citizen’ or ’non citizen’ exactly entail. Nor does it shed any light on, as to Why a national identity card for all ’citizens’ would solve all the problem of ’illegal immigration’. MNIC  underlines the idea of national membership through one identity, stabilized by one National Identification Number, something which has been historically contested by the dwellers of land, in a variety of ways. The proposal of introduction of MNIC as long back as 2003 indicates the technologically driven desire to stabilize the idea of land and its people and is marked  by a historical anxiety of the rulers to not only know about but also to have a documentary record of the ruled.

Hence, this idea of having an identity card for citizens has been BJP’s agenda since Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership.


MNIC is viewed as the government’s first national identity initiative. Pilot locations for the roll-out of the MNIC were prioritised based on factors such as their proximity to India’s borders and the availability of local civil registration data (such as birth and death registration). During enrollment, individuals were required to register their biometrics (photograph and fingerprint scans) and provide extensive personal details such as their marital status, permanent address, visible identification marks, education and a history of family migration. Each MNIC application was physically reviewed and verified by a registration officer before a sixteen-digit National Identity Number (NIN) and an MNIC card could be issued.

The project was initiated in April 2003 in 20 districts of 12 States and 1 Union Territory viz., Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Goa, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Puducherry covering a population of 30.96 lakh (28.62 lakh, excluding Assam).  The first set of MNIC Cards was issued to residents of Pooth Kurd, Narela on May 26, 2007.

By 2007, the MNIC project was still struggling to reach scale, and was only being piloted in twelve of India’s twenty-nine states. The enrolment and verification process had proven to be inefficient and costly, but more importantly there were concerns that the process was (unintentionally) discriminatory; for a significant portion of the population – especially low-income families and those living in rural areas – providing documents that could prove their identity and citizenship was difficult, if not impossible. In one documented case, four hundred Iranian immigrants that had been settled in West Bengal for at least eighty years (well before the formation of the independent Indian nation-state) were denied citizenship on the basis that they could not provide acceptable documentation that would, in the view of the verification team, sufficiently validate the personal details they provided.

A report prepared by GSM Association titled ‘Aadhaar: Inclusive by Design- a look at India’s National Identity Programme and its role in the JAM Trinity’, had even raised some concerns about NPR (National Population Register) pertaining to privacy, exclusion  (rightful citizens being denied citizenship status) and wrongful inclusion (non-genuine citizens being granted citizenship status). The report also observed that Identity programmes that seek to confer one’s citizenship or eligibility status are inherently less inclusive.

The system gathered personal data of Indian citizens—including gender, age, marital status, permanent address, etc.  MNIC project was then integrated with the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) project or Aadhaar project.

MNIC was also issued to people living along the coastal line in order to improve coastal security in about 3,331 coastal villages. As per a 2007 news report some senior government officials had spoken about the issues faced in determining citizenship, citing “weak document base” for determining citizenship status of individuals in rural areas , especially for agricultural laborers, landless laborers, married females, and individuals not present at their place of residence at the time of enumeration due to reasons like internal migration.


Now this MNIC project which was integrated with Aadhaar is now set to be revived. Union Home Minister has touted the idea of another MNIC like project. The former MNIC was done with the intention of giving out resident identity cards to citizens who get included in the NRC and “different colored cards” to non-citizens. the MNIC proposed now is also to be issued to people determined as citizens.

While NPR will include citizens as well as non-citizens, there will be a “social vetting” that will be carried at the Gram Sabha and Ward Committee level to verify the information declared by the residents. This list will then be made publicly available to invite objections and claims. These objections/claims will be entertained by local registrars and objections can also be raised by law enforcement agencies or the Registrars suo moto (themselves).

All of this information have been released by the Ministry of Home Affairs from time to time in the Lok Sabha as part of answers to parliamentary questions.


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