Census, NPR likely to be deferred in wake of the Coronavirus outbreak

Though government sources have indicated the postponement, a formal statement is pending from the Centre


The government at the Centre is all set to defer the house-listing Census and the update of the National Population Register (NPR), scheduled to begin in certain states on April 1, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, The Hindu reported.

The publication reported that two government sources at the Centre confirmed that the exercise will not go ahead in light of the Union Ministry’s guidelines asking the limiting of mass contact due to the coronavirus. However, a formal announcement by the Centre is still awaited and Home Ministry officials are tight-lipped about the development.

The Economic Times said that a senior government official mentioned the postponement of the Census if the deadline of the lockdown, March 31, is extended further. He also said, “In case of shortage of enumerators, the process can be staggered but this may lead to delay in compilation of data. We are considering all options including self-enumeration.”

The process of self-enumeration was planned by the Registrar General of India (RGI) for the second phase of Census that will begin from February 2021. “Using mobile numbers, respondents can generate OTPs after which they can log in and fill self and family members’ details in the census population enumeration form. The reference number generated after filling the form online can then be provided to enumerators later,” said the official.

A government functionary told the Times of India that even if the Census-NPR date was deferred, it could still be completed within the September 2020 deadline. He stated that the government must notify a 45-day period within the six month window of April 1 to September 2020 for the exercise to be completed. He said, “This is meant to offer them flexibility in drawing a schedule that beats local conditions like heat or monsoon. Given that states / UTs notify their respective schedules, there is always an option of delaying the April 1 date to start the Census-NPR by at least a few weeks.”

After Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik wrote to PM Narendra Modi urging him to delay the Census “in the interest of the people”, the Delhi government also wrote to the Centre requesting that the Census-NPR operations be postponed by “at least a month” and that the rescheduling of this exercise may be “reviewed in the last week of the deferment”.

In a letter to Vivek Joshi, Census Commissioner of India, the Delhi Government on March 18 pointed out that a “high state” of alert had been declared in the capital territory and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, invoked.

It also pointed out that the “spread of Covid-19 may be exacerbated” because the enumerators will have to go house-to-house to collect details of citizens.

The CPM’s Politburo too released a statement asking the PM to order the deferment of the Census-NPR, reported Firstpost. Asking that the Central government “single-mindedly” focus on battling the pandemic, the statement read, “Given the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for taking precautions such as social distancing, the Politburo of the CPI (M) is of the firm opinion that the NPR enumeration slated to begin from April 1 must be abandoned.”

President Ram Nath Kovind who was supposed to be enumerated as the first Indian in the Census and NPR, has now cleared his schedule and isn’t meeting members of the public due to the coronavirus threat.

The NPR has garnered a lot of Opposition from the public for being seen as the first step of the exclusionary National Register of Citizens (NRC). Many state assemblies have passed resolutions against the NPR-NRC but the Centre has been unfazed by the same.

However, the method of the conduction of the Census-NPR includes home visits, putting both, enumerators and respondents at a risk of the coronavirus. People protesting against the CAA-NPR-NRC have also deferred their agitations and ensured hygiene protocols at protest sites, following the government advisories to ensure public safety.

Since the government has ordered partial shutdown of shops, malls, offices and other public places in a bid to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, it must now also look at deferring the Census-NPR and stop from putting millions of lives at risk.


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