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The alphabetical soup, indeed!

The alphabetical soup, indeed!

With the announcement that the Union Cabinet has allocated close to Rs 3,500 crores for updating National Population Register (NPR), it adds to the prevailing situation of chaos and unrest across the nation with respect to agitation and demonstrations against the implementation of Citizenship (Amendment) Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC). The process of NPR is scheduled to commence from April next year and to be concluded by September across India except Assam as the state has already gone through the NRC. This exercise was first undertaken in 2010 and was later updated in 2015 when it was linked with the Aadhaar. The renewed pursuit of NPR comes not amid rage against NRC but also at time when Census is due. Before delving into the details of what each one of these mean, a pertinent question is the timing of going ahead with such targets without waiting until the prevailing situation of confusion and chaos subsides or even trying to resolve it.

The NPR is a register of the regular residents of the country containing information collected at the local, sub-district, district, state, and national level under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955—which has been amended—and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. For the purposes of the NPR, a usual resident is a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months at least, or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months. The law compulsorily seeks to register every citizen of India and issue a national identity card; the objective of the exercise being the creation a comprehensive identity database with specific demographic details of every usual resident in the country. Without the requirement to produce any document, the Home Minister states that NPR information will be self-attested, that is, whatever information is provided by the respondent will be deemed correct and no documents or biometric would be required—a peculiar feature in terms of relevance considering the security angle when data provided by a respondent is not to be verified and is yet sufficient. Although the processes of NPR and Census will begin simultaneously, the two databases are said to be different. The decennial census gathers broader socio-economic data and is the largest single source of a variety of statistical information on different characteristics of the people of this country. The NPR, on the other hand, is to be a statement of demographic information, lacking details such as information on demography, economic activity, literacy and education, and housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, language, religion, migration, disability among others required necessarily for census. The census forms the basis for reviewing the country's progress in the past decade, for monitoring the ongoing schemes of the government and plan for the future. This includes a detailed survey on gender and literacy rate, a number of towns, slum households, and their population besides collecting information on matters such as sources of potable water, energy, irrigation, method of farming, whether a house is a concrete one, or thatched or others, etc. Juxtaposed with that, NPR is a database of people simply living in India, irrespective of the citizenship they hold. NRC on the other hand, is a database specifically of Indian citizens as it demands proof of citizenship from the respondents. The absence of proof of citizenship could result in deportation or detention in the long run. The importance NPR holds is that the data thus collected may help identify the demographics of actual residents who will be direct beneficiaries of any government schemes and welfare programmes launched in the area and take requisite steps to make their implementation more effective and yield enhanced results. The Home Minister's statement is at variance with what his ministry's annual report and cabinet ministers, including him, said in Parliament earlier. The cost of conducting the Census and updating the population register is estimated to be Rs 12,695 crore. In September, Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the government was set to spend Rs 12,000 crore on the 2021 Census as well as for the preparation of NPR, adding that it would eliminate the need for multiple identifications. The contention surrounding the NPR being a prelude to NRC is the deeper concern ultimately, but before we get there, the government must specify its stand so that matters may be evaluated critically and conclusively.

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