The first phase of Census accompanied with National Population Register (NPR) exercise that was due to kickstart in April 2020 has been postponed once again until September 2022. The exercise has been postponed repeatedly due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. NPR is a National Population Register which will contain the details of all the ‘usual residents’ of the country regardless of whether they are citizens or non-citizens of India.
Registrar General of India (RGI) had in December informed the states that freezing of boundaries of districts, sub-districts, tehsils, talukas, police stations etc. has been postponed till June 2022, reported The Hindu. These measures are a pre-requisite for carrying out Census exercise hence, even if such an order to freeze boundaries is issued in June, the exercise can only begin in September.
The first phase of Census includes the Houselisting and Housing Census and this time it was to be accompanied by the updating of the NPR, which had created much controversy and opposition. The reason being that NPR was seen as the first step towards the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A detailed analysis of a combination of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA along with NPR and NRC may be read here.
The houselisting phase collects data on the house, the amenities in the house, like toilet, electricity, water supply. The second phase is about the members in the household.
The RGI has decided to surrender the partial budget allocated for the Census-NPR exercise, reported the Economic Times. The Finance Ministry had allocated Rs 3,768 crore in the 2021-22 budget for this exercise.
The March 2021 update
In March 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had informed a parliamentary committee that Census update of NPR will be among the major thrust areas for the financial year 2021-22 and that the provisional data for the same will be available before the next general elections in 2024. However, looking at the current situation which is so volatile in terms of the spread of the pandemic, it is difficult to ascertain whether either of these exercises will be probable by then. In March, The Hindu had reported that the MHA had shared a tentative timeline with the parliamentary panel, saying that provisional Census results will be released in financial year 2023-24 and the primary Census abstracts (PCA) will provide village-level data on important indicators.
How NPR will be carried out
In fact, a mobile application was also developed for collecting the Census details and NPR enabling residents to self-enumerate. The MHA’s Annual report of 2019-2020 stated that the NPR will be updated in 3 ways, one of which is to update it by yourself on a web portal. The other two modes are by house to house enumeration in paper format and mobile mode. It clearly states that no documents or biometrics will be collected during the updation. The Cabinet has approved expenditure of Rs. 3,941.35 crore for NPR updation.
Why the opposition towards NPR?
The 21 questions under NPR, which the MHA declared to be voluntary, were seen as threatening privacy, leading to surveillance and further disenfranchisement of citizens through NRC. The first NPR took place in 2010, it was updated in 2015. The government claimed that NPR is being updated after a 10 year gap. The Rules do not state that NPR listing or data collection has to be done periodically. Hence, the motive behind NPR is being looked at suspiciously by all.
That NPR is the first step towards NRC is not only stated in the Citizenship Rules, 2003 but also MHA’s Annual Report 2018- 19.
Difference between Census and NPR
While answering questions related to the House listing in the Census should be answered but questions in NPR need not be answered! It is completely up to the individual whether to provide the information.
Census is the primary source of basic national population data required for administrative purposes and for many aspects of economic and social research and planning. Not only are constituencies demarcated on the basis of the census but national, local, urban and rural income estimates as also crucial aspects of what levels of access to services and amenities our people have can be determined with an honest collation of this data. Meaning this data is important so that governments can formulate policies and welfare schemes tailored to the needs of the population data that is its people need. Census Data remains the most credible source of information on Demography (Population characteristics), Economic Activity, Literacy and Education, Housing & Household Amenities, Urbanisation, Fertility and Mortality, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Language, Religion, Migration, Disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.
NPR is a National Population Register which will contain the details of all the ‘usual residents’ of the country regardless of whether they are citizens or non-citizens of India. The electronic database of more than 119 crore usual residents of the country has already been created under NPR which was created in 2010 along with House listing and Housing Census 2010. The Government of India has also stated that the NPR Database has been updated during 2015-16 in all States/UTs (except Assam and Meghalaya) to make a comprehensive resident database.
As per Clause 4(3) of the Citizenship Rules, “For the purposes of preparation and inclusion in the Local Register of Indian Citizens, the particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinized by the Local Registrar.”
The population register shall be verified and scrutinised by the local registrar. During the verification process, the particulars of “such individual” as shows Citizenship is doubtful shall be entered by the local registrar with an appropriate remark “doubtful Citizen” in the list of the population register for further inquiry!
Why is the NPR-NRC dangerous?
Harmless as that may sound, the NPR is expected to become the basis on which the All India NRC will be drawn up. At the end of the door to door survey, a list of people who have made it to the list will be declared. People whose names do not appear in NPR will have to appeal against it and present relevant documents to the district registrar who will then take a decision if the said person is a citizen or not.
Census India has uploaded the houselisting schedule 2021, which is the enumeration done as a first phase of Census and was supposed to be carried out in April 2020, along with NPR. While the houselisting schedule has been duly uploaded and seems to be ready for use, the NPR schedule has not been officially declared by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner. It is pertinent to note here that even the houselisting schedule for 2021 was finalised in January 2020 but no official announcement has been made regarding the NPR schedule.
In January 2020, Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner did release the NPR instruction manual directed towards guiding enumerators and state as well as district coordinators for conducting the updation of NPR. It was found that NPR 2020 was seeking information like permanent address, duration of state and place of last residence, details of father, mother and spouse, Aadhaar number, mobile no., Voter ID no., driving license no.
Further, under details of father and mother, their name, date of birth and place of birth is being asked, if they are not already enumerated in the same household. The NPR instruction manual also states that most of the NPR schedule will be pre-filled and one will only have to verify the same.
In February 2020, the Nitish Kumar government of Bihar had demanded that the Centre carry out NPR as per the 2010 schedule and refused to carry out NPR with questions regarding place of birth of mother and father.
After the Census office released the instruction manual, making it clear what questions will be asked during NPR, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had prepared a detailed document on how to deal with enumerators who would be collecting both census houselisting and NPR data at the same time. The document may be accessed here.
After a national level uproar against questions regarding the place of birth of father and mother, the MHA had taken a stand in Parliament that answering questions in the NPR will be voluntary. However, the NPR section of the Census website still states, “It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.” Thus, the government’s stand on conducting NPR has not been quite confusing and one expects the central government to clarify its stand before it starts asking people to start filling up NPR schedules.
As many as 13 states and Union Territories had opposed carrying out the exercise of updating the NPR, as the same was closely associated with the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC). Although the ruling government denied the link between NPR and NRC, the law that is already in place did not back their claims. The Citizenship Rules, 2003 clearly state that NPR is the first step to creating NRC.