Will recently amended Birth Registration law be (mis)used to curb voting rights, even launch the dreaded NPR?

After the Lok Sabha passed Bill (amendment to the 1969 Births & registration law) to create a National Database of Births & Deaths giving sweeping powers (and control) of birth, death registration data to the union government, its serious implications need to be examined. With birth registration already having severe loopholes (77 % of children in urban areas and only 56.4 % in rural areas have had their births registered) if a birth registration certificate is made a precursor to the right to vote, implications could be disastrous. And undemocratic.

As Indiastack gets used by more and more companies in onboarding their customers, the government is seeking to build a national database of births and deaths, which could be used for marriage registration, school enrolment and electoral rolls etc.

Indiastack is used to refer to the set of Application programming Interface (APIs) which are offering services to facilitate paperless communication. The APIs include Aadhar, eKYC, e-Aadhar and Digilocker. Just seven days back, last Tuesday, the Lok Sabha passed The Registration of Births & Deaths (Amendment) Bill, 2023on August 1st, 2023. This bill seeks to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969. 

What should we know about the amendment and why?

Since Privacy is a fundamental right, and as the world gets more data driven, it is necessary for us to understand the infrastructure that is used by both the governments and other stakeholders to store, process and handle our data, Citizens’ Data. After all, the government is also an entity that is capable of infringing upon the rights of people, as we see and experience every day.  This amendment allows the government to build a central level data base of all deaths and births.

Therefore, it is important to understand the law that the government is using to build such infrastructure.  

What is the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969?

The Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (the 1969 Act) seeks to register births and deaths and gives power to the Union Government to appoint a Registrar-General of India (RGI).

This law empowers the state government to appoint a Chief Registrar for the state, District Registrars for each District and Registrar for such local area as the state may deem fit.

While the Central, State and District Registrars mostly have coordinating functions, it is the local Registrars who have been entrusted with registering information on births and deaths.

How does the Registrar know about all the Births and Deaths from the area? The duty is entrusted on each of us, specifically and generally i.e., if a birth or death occurs in a household,  the head of the household, if it is in a hospital or such institution-the medical officer in charge or any authorised person, in case of a birth or death in a jail-the Jailer etc.

Due to the timing of the Act, the information in the registrars has not been made into one centralised database but has been kept decentralised. The Registrar was tasked with giving the certificates of registration to any persons who wants them. If you wanted a birth certificate, you would need go to the local registrar. 

What does the current amendment do?

The amendment-which has not yet been passed by the Rajya Sabha at the time of writing this article-if effective would mandate that the state Registrars share their database with the Registrar General of India (RGI).

Secondly, upon approval of the central government, this database can be made available to authorities dealing with preparation or maintenance of databases relating to the population register.

Now the issue of the National Population Register (NPR) linked to and in many ways a precursor to the contentious and dreaded National Register of Citizens (NRC) and therefore, given that no dicennial Census of India has been taken place since 2011, given that the NRC-NPR issue is a sword hanging over the heads of the Indian people, such steps, of the union government seeking data over births and deaths, could be a roundabout route to begin the process of creating an NPR.

Under the amended law, passed by the Lok Sabha –without any debate or referral to the Parliamentary Select Committee—it also means that Electoral rolls, Aadhaar Number, Ration Card, Passport, Driving Licence, Property Registration and such other databases at the National Level as may be notified and access/control of the data given to the union government[1] The list is therefore not exhaustive, and the government can empower itself and simply notify other databases in future in whose preparation, the births and deaths database could be used for.

The same powers have been given to the Chief Registrar of the State in collating all the information from the Registrars in the state.

Since the bill seeks to build a national level database, it also empowers the Registrar to enter the particulars of Death or Birth in electronic manner along with on paper.

The bill also empowers the local Registrar to collect the Aadhar numbers of the parents and whoever is informing the Registrar of the Birth, when he is entering the information of the birth. It also places duty on Adoptive Parents in case of non-institutional adoption, Single Parent in case of birth of a child to a single parent or unwed mother from her womb; the Biological Parent in case of Surrogacy and other such institutions in specific cases to inform the Registrar General of the Birth.[2]

The bill also states that the certificate obtained at birth, under this renewed act shall be used to prove the date and place of birth of a person who is born on or after the date of commencement of the Registration of Births and Deaths (Amendment) Act, 2023, for the purposes of— (a) admission to an educational institution; (b) issuance of a driving licence; (c) preparation of a voter list; (d) registration of a marriage; (e) appointment to a post in the Central Government or State Government or a local body or public sector undertaking or in any statutory or autonomous body under the Central Government or State Government; (f) issuance of a passport; (g) issuance of an Aadhaar number; and (h) any other purpose as may be determined by the Central Government.[3]

Changes and Shifts made by the Bill

Essentially, the bill makes three major changes. One is that it centralises the births and deaths database, which was not the case until now.

Second, the bill makes it possible for this central database to be used for preparation of other databases such as electoral rolls, property registration etc and additionally, the government has power to notify any other databases that could take help from this national database. Finally, the bill mandates that the birth certificate obtained from Registrar be used for purposes including admission to educational institutions, preparation of electoral rolls, the appointment to a government post or any other purpose as notified by the Central Government.

What are the Implications?

Right to Education:A bare reading of the bill and the act makes it seems clearly  like the bill cannot see the (marginalised) population that would be out of reach of the state’s regularising measures. For example, with respect to school admission, it conditions the right to education- a fundamental right-on the Birth Certificate for those who are born after the bill comes into force.

Right to Vote: While there is still some debate on whether Right to Vote is a fundamental right or a statutory right, there is consensus on its primordial nature for the democratic system to survive. While proof of age is important to decide whether one is eligible to vote, the emphasis on a birth certificate could curtail this right indirectly.

Data Privacy etc: The sharing of databases with any national authority just with the consent of central government or state government in cases of central and state databases respectively takes away any control the person has on their birth data. Moreover, there are no guidelines or directions within the amendment or the act for the government while it chooses which other database could take help from the national births’ database. This gives an all-encompassing power to the government-a delegation without any direction.

While it is important to make public services efficient, the (over) Centralisation of Data, which has been a project for the governments, has not really fetched results. The centralisation is also not the only problem. The crucial issue lies in the lack of concern for the exclusion (of peoples and populations marginalised) this bill legitimises and the absence of any provisions to fill in such gap.

(The author is a legal researcher with the organisation)


[2] Section 7

[3] Section 13.



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