Even as sustained protests against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act continue into their third month across the country, many have raised questions about the exercise to update the National Population Register, or NPR, which is going to be conducted simultaneously with Census 2021. Specifically, there is apprehension that NPR will be the precursor to a nationwide NRC – National Register of Citizens.
As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, the process of updating the NPR is to take place simultaneously with the house listing phase of Census 2021, during April to September 2020, in all the states and Union Territories, except Assam.
So what is NPR and how is it different from the Census? And is it compulsory to give details for the NPR during the Census exercise?
According to the Union government, “The objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country.” It defines a usual resident as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more, or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.
“The database would contain demographic as well as biometric particulars,” says the government. The register was last updated five years ago in 2015, building on the first exercise carried out in 2010.
Census is enumeration and provides a “snapshot of the country's population and housing at a given point of time.”
The Census is carried out once every decade. The last Census was done in 2011.
According to the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, the population Census is the “total process of collecting, compiling, analysing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic, and social data pertaining, at a specific time, of all persons in a country or a well-defined part of a country.”
This simultaneous exercise, work for which is currently underway, gives rise to questions on whether the NPR and the Census are the same.
The short answer is no.
One key difference between the NPR and the Census is that the former is a list of people published in the public domain, while the latter is a document that helps formulate government policy. In the Census exercise, the state doesn’t put out details of individuals – rather, it draws on larger trends, like what is the gender ratio in a particular district, or the child sex ratio, the number of people who live in each state, what languages people speak, what assets they own etc.
The NPR however is a register that will be in the public domain with data of individuals.
Shoaib Daniyal wrote exclusively in Scroll that the NPR questionnaire, accessed by the news website, bore striking similarities to the Census, barring two questions – date and birthplace of an individual’s parents. NPR exercises from previous years did not ask this question.
There are two main concerns.
Firstly, since the NPR question about date and birthplace of an individual’s parents is seen by many lawyers and constitutional experts as a precursor to the NRC – the National Registry of Citizens. The two details – that is, the date of birth and birthplace of an individual’s parents – assume significance because these mirror the requirements for citizenship under the Citizenship Act.
The second concern is that, since the NPR is being conducted alongside the Census, people may unknowingly answer NPR-specific questions while providing details for the census.
The Citizenship Act defines who is a citizen of India. Section 3 of Citizenship Act grants citizenship by birth to three categories of people:
1. Those born between January 26, 1950 and July 1, 1987.
2. Those born on or after the July 1, 1987 for whom at least one parent is a citizen.
3. Those born before the commencement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003, and both of whose parents are Indian citizens, or one parent is an Indian citizen and the other is not an illegal immigrant.
The NRC is an exercise that has been done in the state of Assam, where people have been made to produce documents to prove that they are citizens. The process has been controversial, and has left out 19 lakh people from the register – that is, 19 lakh people who haven’t been able to produce documents for various reasons, have been declared as ‘illegal immigrants’ into the country. This is about 6% of Assam’s population.
Carried out at a cost of Rs 1,220 crore, the controversial exercise saw those who were branded as ‘foreigners’ being sent to detention camps in Assam. The government admitted that as many as 28 people died in these camps even as there are reports of many people killing themselves over NRC fears.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said several times in the past that a nationwide NRC exercise would be carried out. These statements, along with the ongoing NPR process which asks questions mirroring citizenship requirements, have caused serious concerns.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act that was recently passed by the Parliament of India, provides fasttrack citizenship to some undocumented foreigners – or illegal immigrants – living in India. These immigrants must be from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or Afghanistan; they must be either Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, Parsi or Buddhist; and they must have entered India before December 31, 2014.
These stipulations have caused concern among people as to what could possibly happen if and when a nationwide NRC process is carried out. The government has not yet announced the rules to be followed under this law – for instance, how does one prove that they are from one of these three countries, or that they belong to one of these six religions, if they don’t have documents?
There are concerns that Indian Muslims who cannot prove their citizenship in a future-NRC process, may be left in the lurch, whereas Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis or Buddhists may have a ‘backdoor’ safety net because of the CAA. Further, CAA does not address the concerns of Sri Lankan Tamils, many of whom have been living in India following the civil war and genocide in Sri Lanka.
Among the southern states, Andhra Pradesh has said that it will carry out the NPR exercise but people are free not to divulge details they don't wish to. An order by the Jagan Mohan Reddy government states that officials are to record whatever answers are given by the people.
The Telangana government has opposed the CAA, but is yet to take a stand on the NRC and NPR. TRS working President and IT and Industries Minister KT Rama Rao has said that the Chief Minister will take a call after directions come from the Centre.
In Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami announced in December last year that work on NPR in the state will begin in April 2020. Calling it 'just a population Census', the CM claimed that it had no connection whatsoever to the nationwide NRC proposed by national ally BJP.
Karnataka has announced that it will conduct the NPR along with the Census in two phases, beginning April 2020.
Kerala is the only southern state that has decided not to update the NPR, choosing instead to carry out the Census exercise alone. Further, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has announced that steps will be taken to ensure that the public is not confused by the procedures undertaken for the Census and the NPR update process.
However, there have been several calls by protesters for a civil disobedience over the NPR and NRC. Dubbed ‘kaagaz nahi dikhayenge’ (Hindi for ‘we will not show our papers’), the slogan has been popularised across the country based on a poem by comedian Varun Grover.