States, Union Territories need to be ‘fully convinced’ on NPR: Panel

The Union government has maintained that there is no plan for an all-India NRC for now.
Women hold a placard during a demonstration against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).(Photo: Dheeraj Dhawan / Hindustan Times)
Women hold a placard during a demonstration against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR).(Photo: Dheeraj Dhawan / Hindustan Times)
Updated on Mar 06, 2020 05:00 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySaubhadra Chatterji and Sudhi Ranjan Sen

All Indian states and Union Territories should be “fully convinced” on issues related to the upcoming National Population Register (NPR) as there is “dissatisfaction and fear” among the people over the twin exercises of the decadal 2021 Census and NPR, the Parliament’s standing committee on home affairs said on Thursday.

The panel added that the home ministry “must consider some way out” so that the Census goes smoothly, and cautioned that “otherwise there is quite a chance of the entire process being stymied in many states”.

In its report on the demand for grants by the Union home ministry submitted to Parliament on Thursday, the committee, led by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, also wants the ministry to explore the “feasibility of using Aadhaar metadata” for the census to update the population register.

“The Committee recommends that all the States/UTs should be fully convinced on various issues pertaining to the NPR which commences in April to have a national consensus so that there is absolute clarity and no apprehension among remaining people across the country which will help in conducting these exercises in a smooth manner,” the report, accessed by HT, said.

The report assumes significance since 10 states have written to the Centre in recent weeks expressing reservations about NPR – a biometric database of all “usual residents” on India, and a possible precursor to building a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).

The Union government has maintained that there is no plan for an all-India NRC for now.

Tamil Nadu,in February, wrote to the Centre expressing apprehensions, according to senior government officials who did not want to be named said. The Andhra Pradesh government, headed by Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSR Congress and considered to be close to the Centre, this week expressed its apprehensions too. It asked the Centre to explore the possibility of using NPR’s 2010 format for updating the population register.

Other states that have expressed some reservations about the latest version of NPR — either through letters or public statements by the chief minister, or through Cabinet resolutions or assembly resolutions — include Odisha, Telangana, Bihar, and the Congress-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry and West Bengal. Three states — Odisha, Bihar and Maharashtra — have also expressed the desire to carry out a caste census at the state-level along with the national census exercise.

The NPR database, first built in 2010 and updated in 2015, was to be updated again along with the first phase of Census 2020 – the house listing phase – that starts in April 2020. But with several states expressing concerns about NPR, there is a growing concern within the government about its possible fallout on Census 2021.

The House panel, in its report, wanted to know if states were consulted on the new parameters or questions that have been added in upcoming NPR. The ministry said that during the updation of the latest NPR, data on some additional items -- place of last residence, mother tongue, Aadhaar number (voluntary), mobile number, passport number (if Indian passport holder), voter ID number, driving license number, and the date and place of birth of father and mother -- will be collected.

The ministry underlined that the date and place of birth of parents “were collected in NPR 2010 as well for all parents who were enumerated within the household”; while for parents living elsewhere or expired at the time of enumeration, only the names of parents were collected.

“Broadly, states have questioned the need to collect data on mother tongue, data and place of birth of parents and also previous residences of the individual,” a third senior official who did not want to be named said. Neither of these three questions figured when the NPR was built in 2010 or when it was updated.

To assure growing concerns, the Union home ministry has said that providing details to NPR is voluntary.

The registrar general of India (RGI) told the panel that “all State Governments who are now raising their concerns have re-notified the intention of the Central Government to conduct the Census as well as NPR”. The RGI also said that a pilot project was conducted in all the States in which more than 3 million people from different states participated.

However, a senior government official who did not want to be named, said: “With more number of states writing in with their concerns, there is a question mark whether updating NPR will go according to plan.”

Even as the government has clarified that there are no plans to build the NRC immediately, there have been protests across the country against the idea and against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, which aims to hasten the path to naturalisation for minorities from three Muslim-majority nations.

Pitching for use of Aadhar data in the Census exercise to avoid duplicity and wastage of expenditure, the panel maintained that Aadhaar is not just an individual’s data but it is also tied up with ration card, PAN card, etc. “Aadhaar metadata also includes entire family’s surname, address, etc. Therefore, the Committee fails to understand as to why this should be treated as individual data only.”

While the NPR database is of a household and lists head of the family and other members, Aadhaar is for an individual and the database does not have details of other family members. So far, there is no provision to link all Aadhaar numbers having the same address.

The panel also pointed out that huge amount has already been spent on data collection under Aadhaar. “The committee is not quite convinced with the reply of the Ministry that the Aadhaar is an individual data and in order to create a family database, NPR exercise has been undertaken... The Committee would like the MHA to explore the feasibility of using the Aadhaar metadata for the Census and updation of NPR in 2020-21,” the report said.

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