At least 13 States, and Delhi , covering almost 60% of the total population of India, are opposed to the revision of the National Population Register (NPR) in the format being prepared by the Centre, even as the nationwide exercise is scheduled to kick off in barely two weeks time on April 1.
Home minister Amit Shah told Parliament last week that people could choose to not respond to questions, but Chief Ministers and activists have said that this is no guarantee that they would not face any problems in the future.
Discussion with States
On March 3, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had informed the Lok Sabha that it was in discussion with States that had expressed concerns over the controversial additional questions in the NPR form. There has, however, been no further clarification from the government since then. On February 18, the MHA had informed a parliamentary panel that during works towards updating the NPR 2020, “it is proposed to collect data on some additional items like place of last residence, mother tongue, Aadhaar number (voluntary), mobile number, passport (Indian passport holder), voter ID card, driving license number, date and place of birth of father and mother”. The Centre hasn’t as yet officially published a pro forma for the NPR.
“The Centre has said it is not mandatory, but hasn’t dropped the questions,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee observed earlier this month. “Now, if you don’t provide these documents, they won’t ask for it. They will simply mark you as a D (doubtful) voter,” asserted Ms. Banerjee, who spoke before Mr. Shah’s statement last week that nobody would be marked ‘D’ for their inability to provide such documents. Activists such as Yogendra Yadav and Harsh Mander have since pointed out that as the law stands, not providing information for the NPR can be an offence and the NPR could be used for identifying genuine citizens and doubtful ones. The Centre has shown no inclination to change the form or the existing rules to give legal backing to Mr. Shah’s statement that this will not be a basis for identifying citizens.
West Bengal was the first State to announce that it would not canvass the NPR form during the census operations, followed by Kerala . Both States have put the NPR exercise on on hold. The works towards updating NPR is meant to be part of the first phase of the census — the house listing — that is set to take place from April 1 to September 30. The second phase is population enumeration, which will be from February 9 to February 28, 2021, throughout the country simultaneously.
Among the 13 States that are opposed to the NPR in its current form are Bihar where the BJP is a partner in the Nitish Kumar-led government , and Tamil Nadu, where the ruling AIADMK is its ally. Mr. Kumar has said nobody would be asked to furnish information like their parents’ birth place in the form, as his government has sent a letter to the Centre seeking omission of contentious clauses from the NPR form. In Jharkhand, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led government is yet to take an official decision on NPR, but CM Hemant Soren is said to be against the NPR exercise in the State. States where the Congress is in power are all opposed to the NPR in its current form, and some such as Chhattisgarh have said they would use the 2010 format for data collection.
Barring Bihar and TN, no other State under BJP-rule or governed by its allies is holding out. The seven contiguous north-eastern States are ruled by the BJP on its own or in alliance with regional parties or, in the case of Mizoram, by the Mizo National Front, which is a member of a BJP-fronted development forum. The Mizoram government has remained silent while the other States have started or are in the process of training officials for the exercise. Although the Centre has exempted Assam as it had conducted the National Register of Citizens, the State government had in February appealed to the Registrar General of India for conducting the NPR contending that the exercise “will come in handy while detailing welfare schemes”.
“We are training about 11,000 enumerators for collecting the NPR data from May 16 to June 29,” Tripura’s Census Department Director Pradip Kumar Chakraborty said. “We are trying to spread awareness among the public on the process and benefits of the register,” Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren said. “We are well prepared for the exercise that will be conducted without segregation of any community,” asserted Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma. “We are focussing on the accuracy of data, as there have been gaps in the execution at the grassroots in the past,” Mr. Sangma added.
The BJD government in Odisha appears to be taking the Centre’s assurance on the NPR at face value. Trainers have been asked to devote two days on the NPR in a five-day-long district level training beginning from March 16. The NPR format,which seeks answers on date and place of birth of parents in the 13(ii) column, is being used for training purposes. While Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s government has not spoken about the contentious NPR format publicly, the State government had expressed reservations on the NPR form’s 13(ii) column. The State, however, seems to have accepted the Centre’s clarification that the question would be optional, not mandatory.
And Andhra Pradesh, which is keeping the NPR exercise in abeyance, is closely watching the steps its southern neighbour Tamil Nadu takes. “We will do whatever TN does,” an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu .