The office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) has said the schedule or the questionnaire of the National Population Register (NPR) is “being finalised” and the information about the expected date of first phase of Census 2021 is “not available.”
The RGI response came in reply to a question filed by The Hindu under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking information on the expected date of the first phase of Census 2021 and an update of the NPR that was earlier scheduled to begin April 1, 2020. The exercise was postponed indefinitely until further orders on March 25 due to the COVID-19 pandemic .
The Hindu Explains | What connects the NPR, NRIC and Census?
The NPR update and the first phase of Census-House listing & Housing Census were to be conducted simultaneously from April-September. Even though the twin exercise was to be rolled out first in Meghalaya, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area on April 1, the RGI said in the RTI reply on November 17 that “the schedule of NPR is being finalized.”
As many as 13 States and Union Territories have opposed the update of the NPR due to its link with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). According to the Citizenship Rules framed in 2003, the NPR is the first step towards compilation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) or NRC. The NPR was first collected in 2010 and then updated in 2015 . Some States such as West Bengal and Rajasthan have objected to additional questions to be asked in the fresh NPR such as “date and place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence and mother tongue” .
Fears over CAA
The CAA passed by Parliament on December 11, 2019 allows citizenship on basis of religion to six undocumented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. There are apprehensions and fears that the CAA, followed by a country-wide NRC, 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 the CAA and the NRC are linked.
In an RTI reply in March, A.K Samal, Deputy Registrar General, said the process pertaining to Census 2021 were evolving in nature and the disclosure may create confusion in the field and hamper the census work of national importance. “Hence these are not being provided under Section 8 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005,” he stated.
Section 8 (1) of the Act bars providing any information the “disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence”.
The Hindu had sought the “details of the Conference of the State/UT Chief Secretaries and Administrator organised by the Registrar General of India (RGI) and Census Commissioner in New Delhi on January 17, 2020” and asked for a copy of the minutes of the meeting. Mr. Samal responded that minutes of the conference have not been prepared and the presentations were prepared for internal use and deliberations on preparation of Census 2021.
In 2019, the “pretest” or the trial NPR form collected details from 30 lakh respondents last on 21 parameters, seeking specific details on “place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence” along with other information like Aadhar (optional), voter ID card, mobile phone and driving license numbers. In 2010 and 2015, the NPR collected details on 14 parameters.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) informed a parliamentary panel earlier this year that there was need to update the NPR to “incorporate the changes due to birth, death and migration” and “Aadhaar is individual data whereas NPR contains family wise data.” The MHA informed the panel that it proposes to collect details on additional questions such as “date and place of birth of parents” in the NPR to “facilitate back end data processing and making the data items of date and place of birth complete for all household[s]”.