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NRC spectre returns as Modi government revives plan to conduct NPR


Ishfaq-ul-Hassan | India Tomorrow

NEW DELHI–Ghost of National Population Register (NPR) has returned to haunt people particularly the Muslim community in the country.

The Centre has revived the plan to conduct the NPR after suspending it last year due to COVID 19 lockdown.

Registrar-General of India (RGI) has decided to conduct field trials of the first phase of the Census and NPR using a mobile application in all the States and Union Territories, a national newspaper has reported.

“NPR is the first step towards NRC. Along with CAA, NPR-NRC will burden undocumented citizens, especially poor, women, Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis & linguistic minorities. This “field trial” means we’ll have to restart our Andolan. Withdraw NPR, amend CAA & ONLY carry out Census,” tweeted Asaduddin Owaisi, president, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

Media reports said officials are planning to conduct pre-tests or field trials through the app in one block each of every district, which is expected to cover 50 to 60 households.

The app will contain questionnaires on house listing and housing census and the NPR, the official said.

“The dates for conducting the Census exercise have not been finalized yet. But the enumerators will have to be trained in using the app. Many enumerators are young schoolteachers who are expected to use the app instead of the paper schedule [form]. There will be incentives for the electronic form,” a national newspaper quoting an official said.

On January 9, 2020, RGI notified the 31 columns for which the enumerators will seek response for the house listing and housing census.

The questions include whether the respondent has access to LPG or piped natural gas connection; owns a radio, transistor, television, laptop, computer, telephone, mobile phone, or smartphone; and has access to the Internet.

The questions for the NPR have not been made public yet, but the pre-test conducted in 2019 included additional questions such as the date and place of birth of father and mother, last place of residence, and mother tongue, Aadhaar (optional), voter ID card, mobile phone, and driving license numbers. The Opposition-ruled States have expressed apprehensions over the additional questions.

In 2010 and 2015, the NPR collected details on 14 parameters only. It already has an electronic database of more than 119 crore residents.

“The app will have the NPR schedule also. Before it is rolled out, the app has to be tested for glitches, and field trials are to be conducted,” the official said.

On February 9, Vivek Joshi, RGI and Census Commissioner of India chaired a virtual meeting of the Directors of Census Operations of all States to review the preparations for the coming Census where the field trials using the app were discussed.

The Director of Census Operations of one of the States who attended the meeting told The Hindu, “The app has been improvised after the 2019 trials, and the field trials will be held afresh. We are awaiting directions from the RGI.”

On February 10, Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai informed Rajya Sabha that “an app for the collection of data and a Census portal for the management and monitoring of various Census-related activities has been developed”.

“Instruction manuals for enumerators and other Census functionaries have been prepared. A pre-test of the Census was undertaken from August 12, 2019, to September 30, 2019, in selected areas of all the States and Unions Territories to test the Census questionnaire and methodology,” he said.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on February 1 that ₹ 3,768 crores had been allocated for Census in the financial year 2021-22.

The NPR exercise has been opposed by many States and citizens groups because the Citizenship Rules 2003 link it to the creation of a National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) or National Register of Citizens (NRC). Coupled with the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in 2019, which excludes Muslims, fears of an NPR-NRC brought thousands of people on the streets in protest. The government has denied that the NRC and the NPR are linked.

As many as 69 people were killed in various incidents in the days following the passage of the CAA by Parliament on December 11, 2019. The CAA allows citizenship on basis of religion to undocumented non-Muslim communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

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