National Population Register
(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)
The routine decennial population census conducted in India since 1871 (except during World War II in 1941) is now facing hurdles due to controversies surrounding CAA, NRC, and NPR. Though they are all different, political opponents, having got a wonderful opportunity and a national issue encompassing the entire population and territory, they will not allow this to slip from their hands and see orderly census and NPR conducted in the nation in 2021.
Kerala Government has even instructed its census officials not to attend training sessions related to the NPR. Field-work training for census is said to have been completed in most of the districts without mention of the NPR. Kerala Government has taken a stand that the NPR need not be updated in the State. The loser is not the NDA Government or the BJP Party, but our data source, the basis for development and welfare in the State.
State Governments differ in their reaction to NPR. Support and opposition cut across political party alliances. Bihar is against NRC and accepts NPR without some contentious questions on parents of citizens. Karnataka, Odisha, and Maharashtra support NPR. Tamil Nadu is for conducting NPR with some modifications. Congress and TMC are in the forefront of opposition. CPM’s Central Committee has decided to launch a “No to NPR” campaign and door to door drive asking people to reject questions on NPR from the census personnel.
Census provides detailed information on demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, SC and ST, religion, migration, disability, etc. Several other information pertaining to agriculture, industry, occupations, villages and towns, slums, sources of water, energy and so on are also collected. The operational unit of census is the physical entity of the household – group of people commonly living together and partaking food from common kitchen.
The NPR (National Population Register) is not an innovation in 2020. It was first prepared in 2010 and updated in 2015. This will be the third exercise. The need for verifiable identity documents of its citizens led to the idea of the NPR.
The Citizenship Act of 1955 was amended in 2004 by insertion of Section 14 A which provides for compulsory registration of every citizen of India and issue of a National Identity Card, maintenance of a National Register of Indian Citizens and for that purpose establishment of a National Registration Authority, and procedures for these. The Registrar-General of India was made the National Registration Authority also.
The NPR is a Register of usual residents of the country prepared at the local (village/sub-town), sub-district, State and national level under the Citizenship Act 1955, and Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National identity Cards) Rules, 2003. It is mandatory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR. NPR is individual and identity specific unlike the census which provides only information on the status of residents of India and population changes. It was created in 2010 and last updated in 2015-16 with the exception of Assam and Meghalaya.
Usual resident is defined 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 objective, as stated in 2010 when UPA II was in power, is to create a comprehensive identity database of every “usual resident” in the country providing demographic and bio-metric particulars. NPR is a database of usual residents in the country. Nationality was recorded as stated by the individual. In 2010, data for NPR was collected along with house listing phase of 2011 census.
Presently, additional information on the date and place of birth of the parents of the individual, duration of stay in the residence, and data on transgender are sought.
With long borders with many neighbouring countries, and long history of migrations internally and from other countries in search of livelihood, the need for identity documents and registers needs no special mention.
Sweden started the system of maintaining a population register in the 17th century. In the Scandinavian countries and some European countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, and Finland, local registration bureaus maintain registers in which details about every individual are continuously recorded which are known as Population Registers. Changes are recorded from time to time. A card is issued to every individual.
European countries have agreed to have a European-wide census that allows a register-based census that may use the continuously updated information from the national registers. Such a register census was first made in Denmark and later in Nordic countries, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It first came in 2011 due to the efforts of the European Statistical System to better disseminate the results of the population and housing censuses in Europe. Data sharing is a principal idea of this exercise.
In the Russian Federation, resident registration is compulsory. There are separate registers for Russian citizens and foreign citizens or stateless persons. Those who failed to register may be fined.
Perhaps population register raises fear because of its misuse in the days of apartheid in South Africa where it was used from 1950 to classify residents on the basis of race, and issue of identity cards. It ended effectively in 1988.
While small nations are able to maintain population registers, Canada and the US have no compulsory registration of residents. The UK has also no resident registration and the attempt made to issue identity cards was also given up. Census is thus common all over the world, but population registers are not. National territorial borders remain, but people overflow borders and defy attempts at identification if it is disadvantageous to them personally.
Contentious questions in the NPR questionnaire this time relates to mother-tongue and place and date of birth of their parents. There are genuine difficulties in finding details of one’s parents born when registration of birth was not compulsory. In India, there are millions of people even today not knowing their birth date, but have to make a guess through some associated important event.
These difficulties are matters to be resolved by discussions and exchange of ideas and not matters for wholesale rejection of NPR, raising unrelated issues like federalism, right to protest, and making wide insinuations and provocative speeches.
NPR is suspected to be introductory to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which would help grant of citizenship to migrants and identify illegal migrants. Those shouting against NPR and NRC on the streets of Kerala or Tamil Nadu are not people affected by identification of illegal migrants and if any are there, the proper course is to find ways to get them citizenship and not help them to continue their status as illegal migrants.
The census operation should be used to collect as much data as possible about the land and people of the country as data or information is knowledge. NPR is a valuable data source and should not fall victim to party politics. The validity of the statistics of the country depends on them.—INFA