Amid the upheaval that has been caused across the nation with the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the exercise of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the government of India has come out with another mystifying assignment – the National Population Register (NPR).
On December 24, the Centre approved over Rs 3,900 crore for updating NPR and, at the same time, allocated over Rs 8,700 for conducting Census 2021.
The announcement, coming close on the heels of nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the NRC, has fuelled paranoia among citizens and given fodder to the Opposition, which is looking to capitalise on the situation.
Even as the Centre is attempting to delink NPR from NRC, the governments of Kerala and West Bengal have already announced that they will not be implementing NPR.
With the government throwing another complicated exercise before its people, let us try and demystify what NPR is, how is it different from Census and whether or not is it linked to the NRC and CAA.
What is the National Population Register (NPR)?
The NPR is a list of the “usual residents of the country”. The Home Ministry defines a “usual citizen” as one who has been residing in a local area for at least the last six months, or intends to stay in that area for the next six months.
NPR is not the same as Census or a citizenship enumeration drive as it would even record a foreign national who has been staying in a particular place for six months or more.
Hence, it is also different from the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which records only Indians while attempting to identify and exclude non-Indians.
NPR will be prepared at the local (village/sub-town), sub-district, district, state and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
Data for NPR was first collected in 2010 by then Congress-led UPA government, and the exercise was expected to be carried out every 10 years.
When will the exercise be carried out and how does one enroll?
The NPR exercise is scheduled to be carried out from April 2020 to September 2020 and it is mandatory for every “usual citizen” to register in the NPR, on the basis of which a national identity card will be issued.
The process of updating the NPR will be carried out in conjugation with the first phase of the Census – the house-listing phase – under the aegis of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
However, this exercise will not be carried out in Assam, as per the website of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, given the recently concluded NRC exercise in the state.
According to a report by The Indian Express, the Registrar General has already begun a pilot project in 1,200 villages and 40 towns and cities. About 5,200 enumeration blocks have been made for collection of data.
When was the first NPR conducted?
Data for NPR was first collected in 2010 along with the house listing phase of Census 2011. This data was updated by conducting door-to-door survey, and in 2015, it was seeded with the details of Aadhaar. The digitisation of the updated information has also been completed.
In 2009, when the then Home Minister P Chidambaram had set the idea into motion, the home ministry had relied heavily on NPR data for identifying beneficiaries of various subsidy schemes, as it had connected every resident to a household. This had happened despite the NPR clashing with the inception of Aadhaar.
However, in 2016, the NDA government, in a paradigm shift, made Aadhaar the basis for transferring government subsidies, putting NPR on the backburner.
In 2019, through a notification of the Registrar General, the idea has again been resuscitated, and the exercise to update the 2015 NPR has begun.
What is the purpose of conducting/updating NPR?
The idea of the NPR is to have a comprehensive identity database of every “usual resident” in the country. The data is then used for identifying the beneficiaries of various subsidy schemes.
A senior government official told The Hindu that West Bengal was one of the five states that had used the data collected in the 2010 NPR for various beneficiary schemes. Now, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) government has stayed work on NPR in the state.
The other four states that had used the data on behalf of the Centre were Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Manipur and Rajasthan.
The officer also told the newspaper that the NPR data also forms the basis of the Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC), which subsequently used for deciding different types of beneficiaries. “Household-wise NPR data was used in better targeting of schemes such as Ayushman Bharat, Jan Dhan Yojana, Prime Minister Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Saubhagya etc,” the official claimed.
In its statement issued after Cabinet approval to NPR, the Home Ministry said the objective of conducting NPR is to “prepare a credible register of every family and individual” living in the country apart from “strengthening security” and “improvement in targeting of beneficiaries under various central government schemes”.
However, it may be argued that with Aadhaar being used as a basis for linking of subsidies and welfare schemes, NPR is not necessarily required to identify beneficiaries.
What documents/particulars will be required to register in NPR?
The government has clarified that no documents will be required for NPR, and that self-declaration is sufficient for recording one’s particulars. "There is no need of any proof, document and biometric as we believe in people. Whatever you will say would be correct," Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had said earlier this week.
However, the website of Registrar General and Census Commissioner, which was last updated on December 12, 2019, states that the database would contain demographic as well as biometric particulars.
Since NPR data was updated in 2015 and seeded with Aadhaar, the coverage saturation for which is close to 98 percent, it is possible to do away with collection of biometrics for the current NPR exercise for most residents.
According to the website, a “usual resident” will have to furnish the following information:
1. Name of person
2. Relationship to head of household
3. Father’s name
4. Mother’s name
5. Spouse’s name (if married)
7. Date of Birth
8. Marital status
9. Place of birth
10. Nationality (as declared)
11. Present address of usual residence
12. Duration of stay at present address
13. Permanent residential address
15. Educational qualification
However, some media reports suggest that in addition to the aforementioned, the new NPR exercise will also ask the following from the residents:
1. Aadhaar Number
2. Mobile Number
3. Date and Place of birth of parents
4. Place of last residence
5. Passport number (if one has an Indian passport)
6. Voter ID Card number
7. PAN number
8. Driving Licence Number
Saying that it poses trust in its people, the government said furnishing additional information like Aadhaar, PAN, driving licence and voter ID is voluntary. The government has also floated the option of updating these details for NPR online.
Then why is NPR problematic?
The NPR is being termed problematic on many fronts. The first issue is that of privacy, as the new NPR exercise intends to collect data on many personal details of residents.
On the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Office of Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner on September 24 this year, Home Minister Amit Shah had said he would like to see identity databases such as Aadhaar, voter card, passport, etc. being combined into one card. “We will have to end all these separate exercises,” Shah had said.
The additional details asked for in this exercise could be seen as a step in that direction.
Besides, the Opposition is seeing “Date and Place of birth of parents” as a contentious clause. In fact, Chidambaram, in a series of tweets, pointed out that the 2010 NPR was different from the one being proposed by the BJP government now, in that “the emphasis was on residency and not citizenship”.
“The NPR  aided the preparation of Census 2011. There was no mention of NRC,” he added.
Naming the NPR approved by the Cabinet “dangerous” and having a “more sinister agenda”, Chidambaram challenged the Narendra Modi government “unconditionally state that they support the NPR form and design of 2010 and have no intention of linking it to the controversial NRC”.
Why is NPR being linked to NRC/CAA?
Home Minister Amit Shah is being seen clearing the air around NPR, NRC and CAA, giving interviews to various TV news channels to reiterate that the NPR is in no way linked to the NRC.
Yet fresh protests have erupted in various parts of the country, more vociferously in West Bengal, where the Mamata Banerjee-led government has put a stay on the NPR exercise.
Opposition parties and activists are seeing NPR as a prelude to NRC, and have asked people to oppose it. However, their skepticism is not unfounded.
Statements linking NPR and NRC have been made by the NDA government in Parliament as well as in the latest report of the Home Ministry.
“The National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) under the provisions of the aforementioned Statute (Citizenship Act),” the 2018-19 Annual Report of the Home Ministry states.
Besides, then MoS for Home Kiren Rijiju had told Rajya Sabha in 2014 that the NPR was the “first step towards creation of the NRIC by verifying the citizenship status of every usual residents”.
Can the government use NPR data for implementing NRC?
While the Centre is seen taking a step back as far as nationwide implementation of NRC is concerned, it may have powers to use NPR data for NRC.
In 2003, the Atal Bihari government had amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 and had inserted Section 14A, which relates to the issue of national identity cards.
According to Section 14A, the Centre “may compulsorily register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card to him”, and that it “may maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) and for that purpose establish a National Registration Authority”.
This section provides the legal basis for carrying out the NPR exercise and links it with Census as well as NRC. The National Registration Authority here will be the Registrar General, who also functions as Registrar General of Citizenship Registration as well as the Census Commissioner of India.
This means that if the government intends to, it may legally use NPR data for NRC at any point of time.
However, that does not necessarily mean that it will. For instance, the 2010 NPR data wasn’t followed by an NRC.
Besides, PM Modi recently said there was no talk of implementing nation-wide NRC in Parliament or the Union Cabinet, which was immediately backed by Amit Shah, who had been harping on a pan-India NRC throughout his election campaigns in Jharkhand.
How is NPR different from Census?
The Census is different from the NPR in that it asks for more detailed information from a resident. The Census includes fields such as demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes status, language, religion, migration, disability besides others.
The Census exercise was first conducted in India non-synchronously in the year 1872. It was in 1949 that the government decided on collecting data systemically and tasked it to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Read Also: Census 2021 will cost Rs 12,000 crore, need 33 lakh people to count every Indian
The Census, conducted every 10 years, is the single largest source of a wide variety of statistical information on different characteristics of India’s people.
Census 2021 is scheduled to be conducted in two phases – first, housing census, which is to be conducted between April and September 2020, and second, where enumeration of population will be done from February 9 to February 28, 2021, with reference moment as 00:00 hours of March 1, 2021.
A census ‘moment’ defines a time period to get accurate information about the population. This means that those who are born after March 1, 2021 or those who died before this date will be excluded from the record.