New Delhi: A group of 190 economists and social scientists, from across India and the world, have urged the Narendra Modi government to delink the National Population Register (NPR) from the Census 2021 to preserve the integrity of the latter. They have also flagged that linking the two is a violation of the Census Act.
They have suggested that data collection exercise for the NPR should be abandoned for the present.
“…in order to preserve the integrity of Census 2021, it should be completely delinked from any NPR exercise,” the statement said.
India conducts a population census every 10 years and the data forms the basis of many important indicators that show the living conditions of Indians and their access to basic facilities, laying the foundation for economic and social policy making.
One major difference between Census and NPR is that while the former does not identify individuals, the latter collects both demographic and biometric information of an individual thereby compiling an identity based database.
Concerns were raised after the government decided to update the NPR data between April-September 2020 along with the house listing phase of Census 2021.
Census 2011 questionnaire had 29 questions regarding name, age, gender, religion, education levels, occupation among others.
The economists and social scientists pointed out that it is essential to ensure that the “exercise of data collection for Census 2021 is absolutely safe, comprehensive and uncontaminated by any other factors.”
“The Census of India, which provides a basic household and population listing based on anonymous data, is an essential requirement for the country and provides the statistical basis for all assessments of the conditions of the population and for necessary social and economic policies. The Census data are also important in enabling central and state governments to exercise their basic functions and meet their responsibilities to the people,” the statement said.
‘Conducting NPR along with Census violates Clause 15’
They pointed out that there are fears around NPR and that investigators can use the data to question the citizenship of respondents. “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 statement said adding conducting NPR along with the Census also violates Clause 15 of The Census Act 1948.
The clause bars anyone from accessing any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty.
The statement said that it also violates the provision in the same clause that “no entry in any such book, register, record or schedule shall be admissible as evidence in any civil proceeding other than a prosecution under this Act.
The statement comes at a time when states like Kerala, Rajasthan and West Bengal have already announced that they will not permit the work related NPR after concerns over citizens about usage of this data to determine citizenship.
The signatories to the statement include Abhijit Sen, former member of the Planning Commission, Biswajit Dhar, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Harsh Mander of the Centre for Equity Studies, K. Nagaraj, Professor, Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research and Maitreesh Ghatak of the London School of Economics.