The National Population Register, a list of residents of India, is the first step to creating a National Register of Citizens. Once an NRC is created, any resident excluded from it will be legally identified as an “illegal migrant” and can be prosecuted under Indian law.
This connection with the NRC has made the NPR – backend work for which has already started – an extremely controversial process, with many Indians claiming they would refuse to submit their family data to enumerators.
While the NPR is a Union government-led exercise, the actual data collection will be done by state government employees. The controversy has led two states, West Bengal and Kerala, to halt the NPR process altogether. However, many states have also asked (or are considering asking) the Centre to scrap the 2020 NPR questionnaire and revert to the 2010 one.
The 2020 NPR contains eight additional data fields compared to 2010, the most controversial of which are new questions on parents’ birthplace and date of birth. Since parents’ citizenship status is a critical data point in determining Indian citizenship, critics of the new questionnaire argue that it would allow the government to use the NPR data to generate an NRC. By corollary, this means that reverting to the 2010 NPR, which has no explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth, will block an NRC.
However, an analysis by Scroll.in shows that this line of argument is not accurate. The Modi government can generate an NRC even if the explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth is dropped and the current NPR is conducted using the 2010 questionnaire.
2010 recorded parents’ date, place of birth
While the 2020 NPR questionnaire explicitly includes a question on parents’ date and place of birth, it is a mistake to think this data collection was missed in the 2010 NPR.
The 2010 NPR actually recorded parents’ date and place of birth if a person was living in the same house as her parents. This was done via Question 9 in the 2010 NPR, which recorded parents’ details. While the question did not directly ask for parents’ date and place of birth, the way the form was populated meant it recorded the data if a person was living in the same house as her parents.
Here is how it worked. Each NPR form is meant to capture details for the entire household, with each member allotted a serial number. Question 9 asks for parents’ name. If the parents didn’t live in the same house, then the enumerator is instructed to note down their names. But if the parents do live in the same house, then all the enumerator has to do is note down the parents’ serial number as part of Question 9.
Since the 2010 NPR notes down each person’s date and place of birth, this serial number linking means that parents’ date and place of birth will be recorded if a person was living in the same house as her parents.
So only people who don’t live with parents (or if parents have passed away) will be able to withhold parents’ date and place of birth data if the NPR reverts to the 2010 format.
Why new questions
The Union government, in fact, admits to this. As part of a submission to the Rajya Sabha’s Standing Committee on Home Affairs in March, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs said, “date and place of birth of parents were collected in NPR 2010 as well for all parents who were enumerated within the household”.
“For parents living elsewhere or expired at the time of enumeration, only the names of parents were collected,” the ministry said.
The new question on parents’ date and place of birth is only a minor change, explained the ministry: “To facilitate back end data processing and making the data items of date and place of birth complete for all household, the details of parents are being collected in a more comprehensive manner in NPR 2020.”
Change affects small number of people
The minimal impact of any shift back to the 2010 questionnaire becomes even clearer when we try and understand why parents’ details are needed in the first place.
According to Indian citizenship law, any person born before July 1, 1987 is Indian simply by virtue of being born on Indian soil. The citizenship status of her parents is immaterial. But this changes after that. If a person was born in India between July 1, 1987, and December 3, 2004, at least one parent needs to be Indian for him to be a citizen. If a person is born after December 3, 2004, she will only have Indian citizenship if both her parents are Indian or one is Indian and the other is not an illegal migrant.
Thus, parents’ details are relevant in determining citizenship status only for people born after July 1, 1987, that is, residents at or below 33 years of age.
For minors, it would be safe to assume that almost all of them live with their parents. Survey data shows that this is also true for the vast majority of young adults too. Indian cultural norms mean that most people live with their parents at least till marriage.
As explained above, if a person lives with her parents, the 2010 questionnaire does end up capturing parents’ date and place of birth. Since a large majority of people in the 33 and below age group do live with their parents, using the 2010 questionnaire would only make a minor difference to the creation of an NRC.
Little impact on NRC creation
The gap between the 2010 and 2020 NPR questionnaires further diminishes when we consider the 2003 Citizenship Rules, which lay out the legal framework on the NPR and NRC. The first step to the creation of an NRC, once the NPR is ready, is to identify people whose citizenship is “doubtful”. These people would have to prove their Indian citizenship as part of a “claims and objections” process, failing which their names would not be exported from the NPR to the NRC.
The 2003 Rules lay down no guidelines explaining how “doubtful” citizens are to be identified or how the “claims and objections” process is to take place. As a result, the government has a free hand. So while removing the explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth will create a small data gap in the NPR, this can easily be filled up by the government during the NRC creation process.
Rather than acting as a barrier to NRC creation, the use of 2010 NPR questionnaire would at best mean some more work for the government when creating an NRC from the NPR database.
2010 NPR could have been used for NRC
In fact, if we examine the 2010 NPR process, there is no indication that an NRC could not have been generated in the absence of an explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth. The 2003 Citizenship Rules, which lay out how an NRC is going to be generated from an NPR, actually do not list parents’ date and place of birth as NPR data fields.
This suggests when the Vajpayee government drew up the rules, it was confident it could generate an NRC without any explicit NPR question on parents’ date and place of birth.
This conclusion is further buttressed when we look at government literature on the 2010 NPR. Scroll.in accessed a defunct website on the 2010 NPR and found that it stated that “the creation of the National Population Register (NPR) is the first step towards preparation of the NRIC [National Register of Indian Citizens]”. At another place, the website points out that the NRC will be prepared after “verifying the details in the NPR and establishing the citizenship of each individual. The NRIC, therefore, would be a sub-set of the NPR.”
This indicates when the Manmohan Singh-led Union government wrote up the literature for the 2010 NPR, it felt it could generate an NRC without an explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth.
Conclusion: Removing the explicit question on parents’ date and place of birth in the NPR and reverting to the 2010 questionnaire would not prevent the Union government from using that data to create an NRC.