As many as 190 economists and social scientists have appealed to the government to delink Census 2021 from National Population Register (NPR) exercise as there is an apprehension that it could be used to determine citizenship.
A statement to this effect was posted on the website of International Development Economics Associates. The economists and social scientists in a statement expressed their deep concern about major implications for the Indian statistical system, of the attempt to combine data collection for the 2021 Census of India with that for the proposed National Population Register.
Noting that the Census data are important in enabling central and state governments to exercise their basic functions and meet their responsibilities to the people, the statement said, "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 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.
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 statement said, adding, "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 also pointed out that conducting NPR along with the Census also violates Clause 15 of The Census Act 1948 that bars anyone from accessing 'any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty'.
"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 observed.
In order to preserve the integrity of Census 2021, it should be completely delinked from any NPR exercise, the statement said adding that in any case, any attempt at data collection for the NPR should be abandoned at present.
The signatories include Harsh Mander (Centre for Equity Studies, New Delhi), S Irfan Habib (former Professor, NUEPA, New Delhi), Alex Thomas (Azim Premji University, Bengaluru), Amit Bhaduri (former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), R Nagaraj (Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, Mumbai).
C P Chandrasekhar (former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University), Jayati Ghosh( Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), Barbara Harriss-White (Oxford University),Debraj Ray (Professor, New York University, USA), Deepankar Basu (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA), Guglielmo Chiudi (former Professor Sapienza University of Rome) and Amiya Kumar Bagchi (Institute for Development Studies, Kolkata) are also among the signatories.
The NPR is a list of "usual residents" of the country. A "usual resident" is defined for the purposes of NPR as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months or more.
The data for National Population Register was collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of Census of India 2011. The data was updated in 2015 by conducting door-to-door survey.
Now it has been decided to update the National Population Register along with the house-listing phase of Census 2021 during April to September 2020 in all the states/union territories except Assam, according to the website of the Office of the Registrar General, and Census Commissioner.