As many as 50 million Bangladeshis, who lack National Identity (NID) cards, are in serious trouble. Having NID card is not mandatory as per the law, but lack of it denies citizens the enjoyment of the full rights, privileges, and benefits of citizenships. Thus NID card has become such an essential document that one can illafford to be without it. An increasing number of service providing organizations – both public and private – are making it compulsory for their clients to submit photocopy of NID card, leaving the card-less people in hot water.
Many aggrieved persons, who for one reason or another failed to acquire the card, have complained to the Election Commission about the matter. In return, the Commission asked all authorities concerned not to make it compulsory for citizens to show NID card to receive civic facilities. It said it is not lawful to make NID compulsory, at least as long as all citizens are provided with this document. When asked, former election commissioner Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury said, “Many organizations have adopted mandatory requirement of NID cards even though there is no legal ground for this. Almost all state facilities now require NID. It should not be made compulsory in such a way.” According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in January this year the number of country’s population stood at 161.75 million. Of them, 101.8 million are voters. Only those who are voters or 18 years of old are eligible to get a National Identity Card. That means more than 50 million people, a majority of them are under-aged, do not possess this vital document.
But the way service providing organizations are increasingly making NID mandatory for all citizens, it is becoming extremely difficult to live without this document. For example, the card holders currently receive 22 types of services, including banking, TIN, driving license, passport, land purchase, and sale, share-BO account opening, trade license, vehicle registration, insurance schemes, gas and electricity connections, purchase of mobile SIMs, student admission, and others. Anyone who wants their marriage registered must produce the ID. Moreover, due to heightened security measures, no one can rent an apartment without submitting a copy of this essential document. Recently, the Public Service Commission (PSC) had published a notice instructing NID compulsory while applying for BCS online, creating widespread fear amongst the BCS aspirants.
However, after an intense criticism of the move, PSC authorities backed down from their earlier decision and said applicants need to not submit NID to sit for upcoming 38th BCS examinations. The new instructions said that the applicants can apply for all the exams under PSC by enclosing alternative necessary papers, in case of unavailability of the NID card. In that case, the applicant must show why she or he was not given the NID yet. Even the EC alleged that many organizations including banks, Passport Office and Rajuk made submission of the photocopy of NID cards compulsory without putting in place any alternative measures, leaving undocumented section in a quandary. The commission requested the authorities concerned not to make NID compulsory as long as a gazette is not published in this regard.
Now let us see what law says about presenting national identity card while receiving certain services. The National Identity Registration Act, 2010 has stated the following policy in principle: (1) The Government may, by notification in the official Gazette and optionally in addition to that, by notification in the electronic Gazette, introduce a system to present the national identity card of any citizen and to submit a copy thereof in receiving any service or civil facility mentioned in such notification, provided that such notification shall not be issued or the system shall not be introduced until the activities for issuance of national identity card to the citizens are generally completed throughout Bangladesh. (2) No Citizen shall be compelled to present his national identity card or to submit a copy thereof and be denied of receiving any service or civic facility due to not possessing a national identity card until the notification under sub-section (1) is issued. Former election commissioner Abdul Mobarak said, “Use of NID is not obligatory according to the law. We must not do anything going against the spirit of law. People can challenge the decision of those organizations which made NID a must for obtaining their services.”