As many as 190 economists and social scientists from across the world have called for the de-linking of India’s National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens. The collective expressed deep concern over what it called the “major implications for the Indian statistical system” as the Centre attempted to collate data for the 2021 Census of India with that for the proposed NPR.
The Centre has linked the exercise of updating the population register to the census, due in 2021. The NPR has been described as “the first step towards the creation of NRC”. On December 24 last year, the Cabinet approved funds of Rs 3,900 crore to update the population register. The NRC is a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants.
Highlighting the need for a census, the group said it was important to make sure the exercise was “uncontaminated” by anything else. “It is therefore essential to ensure that the exercise of data collection for Census 2021 is absolutely safe, comprehensive and uncontaminated by any other factors,” the statement said.
“However, there is a real danger that the concerns around the National Population Register and the fears that are growing among substantial sections that investigators can determine whether a respondent’s citizenship is ‘doubtful’,” the group added. “This possibility has already led to widespread public distrust and suspicion about the NPR, and it is not at all clear that there are any benefits from the NPR at the present juncture.”
The collective noted that updating the population register along with the census was in violation of Clause 15 of The Census Act, 1948 under which access to “any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty” was prohibited.
“We therefore demand that, in order to preserve the integrity of Census 2021, it should be completely delinked from any NPR exercise,” the group said. “In any case, any attempt at data collection for the NPR should be abandoned at present.”
The signatories included activists Nandini Sundar, Harsh Mander, and several other professors from universities from across the world.
CAA, NRC and NPR
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the condition that they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014.
The population register is linked to the census, due in 2021, and is a list of “usual residents” in the country. However, it has also been linked to the National Register of Citizens, a proposed nationwide exercise to identify undocumented migrants and differentiate them from citizens of India. The Census of India website has described the NPR as “the first step towards the creation of a National Register of Citizens”.
Critics have said that the NRC, in tandem with the Citizenship Amendment Act, could be used to render many Indian Muslims stateless since the citizenship law excludes Muslims.