Explained | How can citizens file Census details online?

What are the norms being laid down? Why has the National Population Register been made compulsory for those who want to fill the form digitally? What is the timeframe for the exercise? Are the Census and NPR mandatory exercises?

Updated - May 31, 2023 11:33 am IST

Published - May 28, 2023 02:32 am IST

Union Home Minister Amit Shah releases a book on the Indian census in New Delhi on May 22, 2023.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah releases a book on the Indian census in New Delhi on May 22, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

The story so far: India had conducted the Census every 10 years since 1881, but in 2020, the decennial exercise for Census 2021 had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Though the government has not announced fresh dates for the Census, the groundwork is being laid and details are emerging about some of the features. It will be the first digital Census giving citizens an opportunity to “self-enumerate”. The NPR (National Population Register) has been made compulsory for citizens who want to exercise the right to fill the Census form on their own rather than through government enumerators. For this, the Office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) has designed a “self-enumeration” portal, so far in English only, that is yet to be launched. During self-enumeration, Aadhaar or mobile number will be mandatorily collected.

What is the status of the Census exercise?

A January 2 notification extending the deadline for the freezing of administrative boundaries in States till June 30 has ruled out the exercise at least till September. As preparation and training takes at least three months, the Census will have to be pushed to next year. Around 30 lakh government officials will be assigned as enumerators and each will have the task to collect the details of 650-800 people through both online and offline mode, covering an estimated population of 135 crore people. The Lok Sabha election is due in April-May 2024 and it is unlikely that the Census will be carried out before that since the same workforce will be dedicated to the elections.

The completion of both the phases of the Census will take at least 11 months, even if done at an accelerated pace from October 1.

What is holding up the Census?

One reason which is holding up the exercise is the amendments proposed to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969. The government wants to have a centralised register of births and deaths that can be used to update the population register, electoral register, Aadhaar, ration card, passport and driving licence databases. The centrally stored data will be updated in real time without human interface leading to addition and deletion from electoral rolls when an individual turns 18 and after an individual’s death respectively. A Bill to link the births and deaths register with the population register and others is expected to be tabled in the next session of Parliament, Home Minister Amit Shah has said.

What about self-enumeration and NPR?

On May 22, Mr. Shah inaugurated the new Janganana Bhavan (Census building) in New Delhi, and released a report, ‘The Treatise on Indian Censuses Since 1981’ containing details about the questions to be asked in the forthcoming Census and other aspects. The report said that “self-enumeration for Census will be provided to only those households that have updated the NPR [National Population Register] online”.

Editorial | Time to count: On government’s delay in conducting census

The NPR, unlike the Census, is a comprehensive identity database of every “usual resident” in the country and the data proposed to be collected at the family level can be shared with States and other government departments. Though Census also collects similar information, the Census Act of 1948 bars sharing any individual’s data with the State or Centre and only aggregate data at the administrative level can be released. According to Citizenship Rules 2003 under the Citizenship Act, 1955, NPR is the first step towards a compilation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC/NRC). Assam is the only State where an NRC has been compiled based on the directions of the Supreme Court, with the final draft of Assam’s NRC excluding 19 lakh of the 3.29 crore applicants. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Assam government has rejected the NRC in its current form and demanded re-verification of 30% names included in the NRC in areas bordering Bangladesh and 10% in the remaining State.

In 2020, the NPR was opposed by several State governments such as West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab and Chhattisgarh and civil society organisations due to its link with the proposed NRC as it might leave many people stateless for want of legacy documents.

There are apprehensions that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 that allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented religious communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 will benefit non-Muslims excluded from the proposed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship. The government has denied that the CAA and NRC are linked and that there are currently any plans to compile a countrywide NRC.

What is the current status of NPR?

The NPR was first collected in 2010 when the Congress government was in power at the Centre. It was updated in 2015 and already has details of 119 crore residents.

In March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) amended the Census Rules framed in 1990 to capture and store the Census data in an electronic form and enabled self-enumeration by respondents. The NPR is scheduled to be updated with the first phase of Census 2021. For this phase (houselisting and household phase), 31 questions have been notified, while for the population enumeration — the second and main phase — 28 questions have been finalised but are yet to be notified.

The NPR is expected to collect details on 21 parameters of all family members, up from 14 questions in 2010 and 2015. The sub-heads include passport number, relationship to head of the family, whether divorced/widowed or separated, mother tongue, if non-worker, cultivator, labourer, government employee, daily wage earner among others. The form also has a column on Aadhar, mobile phone, Voter ID and driver’s licence.

Though the government has claimed that the NPR form has not been finalised yet, the sample form is part of the Census of India 2021 Handbook for Principal/District Census Officers and Charge Officers in 2021. According to the Handbook, that was pulled down from the Census website after a report published in The Hindu in 2021, the NPR has retained contentious questions such as “mother tongue, place of birth of father and mother and last place of residence”, possible indicators to determine inclusion in the citizenship register. The questions were opposed by the State governments of West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan and Odisha in 2020. The final set of questions of both the phases and NPR were asked during a pre-test exercise in 2019 in 76 districts in 36 States and Union Territories covering a population of more than 26 lakh.

What about the expenditure?

The report released by Mr. Shah says the initial draft prepared by the office of the Registrar General of India and circulated to key Ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office only called for the conduct of Census 2021 at a cost of ₹9,275 crore, and not the NPR. The draft Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) note was then revised and a financial provision of ₹4,442.15 crore for updating the NPR was added on the directions of the MHA “subsequently”, it says. The proposal was cleared on August 16, 2019 and it received the Union Cabinet’s nod on December 24, 2019. It was decided that the enumerator engaged for Census would also collect details for NPR. The COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020 and since then both the exercises are on hold. Now, the NPR has been made compulsory if citizens want to exercise the right to fill the Census form on their own. The deleted Handbook said that it is “mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.” Census is also a mandatory exercise and giving false information is a punishable offence.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.