An Entire Village in Tamil Nadu Emptied Out Its Bank Accounts Over Fears of 'NPR Document'

CNN-News18

Chennai/Thoothukudi: On January 11, a notification from the Central Bank of India in Tamil newspapers triggered panic among residents of Kayalpattinam in Thoothukudi district.

The advertisement asked account-holders to submit their KYC (know your customer) document at the earliest and among the list of acceptable proofs was a mention of the National Population Register (NPR).

Soon after, villagers, most of whom ares Muslims, started queuing up outside the bank branch as fear gripped locals that this was somehow connected to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.

As word spread, this tiny hamlet saw a rush at the branch between January 20 and January 22 with the withdrawal amount going up to as much as Rs 4 crore. Some of the account holders withdrew their entire amount from the branch in view of the notification.

Ahmed Sahib, an advocate from Kayalpattinam, told News 18, “We don't have any personal enmity with the Central Bank of India or any other bank. People got worried when the bank started accepting NPR as a proof for KYC scheme. This led to anxiety and the mass withdrawal of cash from the bank."

Sahib said he has withdrawn Rs 3.50 lakh, while most of his neighbours, who have more than one account in the branch, have taken out their entire deposits over the last three days.

The bank notification asking account holders to produce their KYC documents by the end of January seemed a routine one, but the mention of NPR as one of the valid documents scared many of the villagers, a local said.

Many of the locals said there is uncertainty over the recently amended Citizenship Act that expedites the granting of citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three neighbouring countries.

People are also living in fear about the proposed implementation of the National Population Register (NPR), followed by the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Muslims and critics fear the combined application of the three processes may create trouble for Muslims who may not be able to provide all the required documents.

With more people continuing to take out money, Central Bank officials have now started a door-to-door campaign to allay the fears of their customers.

“NRP is a sensitive issue and hence, people in Kayalpattinam are worried. The situation is yet to normalise. We have put out posters to create awareness among residents and urged them not to worry about NPR as it is just an optional document and not mandatory. We have also made arrangements for an auto with a speaker to create awareness,” a Central Bank official said, on conditions of anonymity.

Another official said there is a worry the bank might lose a large number of customers, many of whom are Muslims, this way. Bank officials have also met Jamat organisations to reach out to community members.

A senior official at Canara Bank said NPR-related document is not mandatory, adding the Reserve Bank of India does not insist on the same either.

“There is no requirement of NPR for KYC documents. We are asking for Aadhaar or PAN cards. These are valid documents for operating accounts or opening any new deposit account. RBI rules are very clear on this,” Canara Bank MD and CEO Sankara Narayanan told News18.

Srinivas Kodali, a Hyderabad-based independent researcher working on data and governance, said the notification has been there since 2011/12.

"NPR letter/card became valid since the time RBI started accepting Aadhar as an ID proof. Aadhar and NPR letter were issued simultaneously in different regions. A lot of people do not know that it is the same. If you look at the bank ads, they don’t say NPR is mandatory. It just lists it as one of the valid documents for KYC verification and that has been there for years. The ads also say customers can get Aadhaar, driving licence and other documents for the same. There is nothing to worry about in this. The recent panic is due to the political issue and nationwide protests over the combined implementation of the CAA, NPR and NRC,” Kodali added.

The NPR is an exercise that is likely to be launched in April by the Centre. Reports stating that it could become the basis for assessing citizenship based on documents of people's ancestry have triggered fear among people, especially Muslims.

As of now, citizens are yet to get anything called an "NPR document" and Home Ministry officials say no such document would be given to citizens.

(With inputs from Rishika Sadam & Revathi Rajeevan)