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Census 2021 Exercise and NPR, Reasons for Delay and Current Status

Census 2021 Exercise: The Census exercise is a comprehensive nationwide survey conducted by the government of India every ten years. It aims to collect demographic, social, and economic data about the population of the country. Census 2021 Exercise is also important for UPSC Prelims Exam and UPSC Mains Exam (GS Paper 2- Various Governance Measures taken by the government to promote welfare of different sections of Population).

Census 2021 Exercise Background

India has traditionally conducted the Census every 10 years since 1881. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the decennial exercise for Census 2021 had to be postponed. While fresh dates for the Census have not been announced by the government, preparations are underway, and certain features of the upcoming Census are coming to light.

Census 2021 to be First Digital Census

Notably, the Census 2021 will mark the first digital Census in India, allowing citizens to actively participate through “self-enumeration.”

  • To exercise this option, citizens will need to have their details registered in the National Population Register (NPR), which has been made mandatory.
  • This will enable citizens to fill the Census form on their own, bypassing the need for government enumerators.
  • During the self-enumeration process, the collection of Aadhaar or mobile numbers will be compulsory.

Census 2021 Exercise, Current Status

A notification issued on January 2 extended the deadline for the freezing of administrative boundaries in Indian states until June 30, effectively postponing the Census exercise until at least September.

  • Given that the preparation and training of enumerators typically require three months, it is likely that the Census will be pushed to the following year.
  • Approximately 30 lakh government officials will be assigned as enumerators, responsible for collecting information from an estimated population of 135 crore individuals through a combination of online and offline methods.
  • Considering that the Lok Sabha election is scheduled for April-May 2024, it is improbable that the Census will be conducted before then, as the same workforce will be engaged in election-related duties.
  • Even if expedited, completing both phases of the Census will require a minimum of 11 months from October 1 onwards.

Why Delay in Census 2021?

The proposed amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, are one of the factors causing delays in the Census exercise.

  • The government aims to establish a centralized register of births and deaths that can be utilized to update various databases, including the population register, electoral register, Aadhaar, ration card, passport, and driving license databases.
  • This centralized data repository would be constantly updated in real-time without requiring human intervention, allowing for the automatic addition of individuals to electoral rolls upon turning 18 and their removal after their demise.
  • Home Minister Amit Shah has stated that a Bill to link the births and deaths register with the population register and other databases is expected to be presented during the upcoming session of Parliament.

Self-enumeration and NPR

During the inauguration of the new Janganana Bhavan (Census building) in New Delhi, Mr. Shah unveiled a report titled ‘The Treatise on Indian Censuses Since 1981’.

  • The report encompasses comprehensive information regarding the upcoming Census, including details about the questions to be included.
  • It was emphasized in the report that the provision for “self-enumeration” during the Census will be applicable only to households that have successfully updated their information in the National Population Register (NPR) online.

National Population Register (NPR)

Unlike the Census, the National Population Register (NPR) serves as a comprehensive identity database encompassing information about every “usual resident” in the country.

  • The data collected at the family level through the NPR can be shared with state governments and other government departments.
  • In contrast, the Census Act of 1948 prohibits the sharing of individual data with the state or central government, allowing only the release of aggregate data at the administrative level.
  • The NPR, as per the Citizenship Rules 2003 under the Citizenship Act of 1955, acts as the initial step towards the compilation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC/NRC).
  • Notably, Assam is the only state where an NRC has been compiled, following the Supreme Court’s directives. The final draft of Assam’s NRC excluded 19 lakh applicants out of 3.29 crore.

Associated Concerns with NPR

In 2020, the NPR faced opposition from several state governments, including West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Punjab, and Chhattisgarh, as well as civil society organizations, due to its perceived association with the proposed NRC, which raised concerns about potential statelessness for individuals lacking proper legacy documents.

  • Concerns have been raised regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, which grants citizenship based on religion to certain undocumented religious communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.
  • There are apprehensions that this law may benefit non-Muslims who are excluded from the proposed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims might be required to prove their citizenship.
  • The government has stated that the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are not linked, and they have denied any current plans to implement a nationwide NRC.

Current Status of NPR

The NPR (National Population Register) was initially collected in 2010 under the Congress government, and it was updated in 2015 with details of approximately 1.19 billion residents. In March 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs made amendments to the Census Rules to facilitate the electronic storage and capture of Census data. These changes also allowed for self-enumeration by respondents.

  • The NPR is planned to be updated during the first phase of Census 2021.
  • While 31 questions have been notified for the houselisting and household phase, the finalization and notification of 28 questions for the population enumeration phase are still pending.
  • Although the government states that the NPR form has not been finalized yet, a sample form was included in the Census of India 2021 Handbook for Principal/District Census Officers and Charge Officers.
  • However, the Handbook was later removed from the Census website after concerns were raised.
  • The sample form included contentious questions such as “mother tongue, place of birth of father and mother, and last place of residence,” which some view as possible indicators for inclusion in a citizenship register.
  • These questions faced opposition from State governments such as West Bengal, Kerala, Rajasthan, and Odisha in 2020.

Funding for Census 2021 and NPR

According to the report released by Mr. Shah, the initial draft proposed conducting only the Census 2021, at a cost of ₹9,275 crore, without mentioning the National Population Register (NPR).

  • However, the draft Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) note was subsequently revised to include a financial provision of ₹4,442.15 crore for updating the NPR, as directed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • The proposal received clearance on August 16, 2019, and was approved by the Union Cabinet on December 24, 2019.
  • It was decided that the enumerators responsible for the Census would also collect details for the NPR.
  • Unfortunately, both exercises were put on hold due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Now, the NPR has been made mandatory for citizens who wish to fill the Census form on their own.
  • The deleted Handbook previously stated that it is compulsory for every usual resident of India to register in the NPR.
  • It is important to note that participating in the Census is also mandatory, and providing false information is a punishable offense.

Census as a Mirror of Past and Present- The Hindu Editorial Analysis

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