The story so far: On February 25, the Bihar Assembly passed a unanimous resolution stating that there is no need for a National Register of Citizens in the State and that the implementation of the National Population Register (NPR) would be done strictly according to the 2010 format. An ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made it clear that the 2020 format of the NPR has several contentious clauses.
What is the National Population Register (NPR)?
The NPR is a database of usual residents in the country who have stayed in a local area for the past six months or more and who intend to remain in the same place for the next six months or more. The NPR is individual and identity specific unlike the Census which only provides information on the status of the residents of India and population swings.
The NPR database was first created in 2010 . The electronic database of more than 119 crore usual residents of the country has already been created under the NPR in English as well as the regional languages. The data collection is done under the aegis of the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. The NPR is undertaken under the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. The NPR was last updated , except in Assam and Meghalaya, in 2015-16.
How is the NPR linked to the National Register of Citizens ?
Successive governments have said that the NPR is the mother database for “identity purposes”.
The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 mandates that particulars of “every family and individual” in the NPR would be used for verification in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process. The Local Registrar is empowered, during verification, to mark out the particulars of individuals whose citizenship is doubtful, with “appropriate remarks” for further enquiry. The individual concerned has to then appear before the Sub-district or Taluk Registrar of Citizen Registration to prove he or she is a citizen before a formal decision is taken to include or to exclude their particulars in the National Register of Indian Citizens.
The onus to prove he or she is a citizen is entirely on the individual concerned. Thus, the data collected through NPR becomes the crux for determining the citizenship of a person.
What is the NPR format of 2010?
Fifteen identity particulars of the individual members of the household are sought in the 2010 format. These include name, relationship to the head of the household, sex, date of birth, marital status, educational qualification, occupation/activity, names of parents, place of birth (of everybody staying in the household at the time), nationality, present address of usual residence, duration of stay at the present address and permanent residential address.
What does the updated manual of 2020 say?
The NPR 2020 enumeration exercise will be undertaken during April–September this year. Certain new information will be collected by enumerators in a house-to-house collection exercise such as Aadhaar, mobile, voter ID, passport and driving licence, if available with the residents on a voluntarily basis. Unlike in the 2010 NPR, the new format for NPR 2020 requires residents to disclose their mother tongue and the places and dates of birth of their parents even if they are not living in the same household at the time or not alive. Individuals have to disclose the districts and States of their parents’ birth.
What is the problem?
Besides Bihar, several State governments such as Kerala , West Bengal , Punjab have already objected to the implementation of NPR 2020, saying it is a harbinger for a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify illegal migrants. The NRC exercise in Assam alone has seen the exclusion of over 19 lakh people from the citizens’ list in the State. Petitions have also been filed in the Supreme Court of India, describing the NPR as a facilitator for the NRC. State governments are nervous that the NPR data would be used to target citizens on the basis of their identity and deprive them of their citizenship. Fears about the NPR-NRC have been compounded with the passage of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act , or the CAA of 2019, which fast-tracks citizenship-by-naturalisation process of persons from six religious communities, other than Muslims, who have fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The NPR 2020 Manual says “date of birth is one of the important items of information being collected in the NPR”. But in a country where a large part of the population is underprivileged and where people have not been able to formalise their birth due to lack of access to health care, the task of disclosing the exact birth and place of birth, especially of their aged parents and orphans, would prove to be a daunting task, point out experts.
What lies ahead?
The workforce for updation of NPR 2020 has to be provided by the State governments. With more States objecting to the new format and its contentious clauses, the exercise may reach an impasse. Widespread doubts about the intentions behind the NPR may also affect the smooth conduct of the Census.