The Census of India 2011 and National Population Register
The Census of India initiated this week, on April 1, 2010, the stupendous exercise of exhaustively enumerating the households and people of this vast land and collecting extensive data on their varied socio-economic and vital aspects.
The Census of India has a hoary history; the first Census of India was conducted in 1872. Since then, the population of India has been counted in the first year of every decade. The Census that has been begun now is the fifteenth in an unbroken series. The data that has been collected over these 140 years offers a graphic picture of the changes that the land and people of India have undergone in this modern phase of their history; there is almost no other source which tells the story of the triumphs and tribulations of modern India more graphically and accurately. In the process, the Census of India has acquired an enviable reputation for efficiency, rigour and accuracy. The officers associated with the Census of India are routinely drafted to help in designing and executing modern censuses for relatively less developed countries.
The Census now under way, however, has taken upon itself a new and unusual task in addition to the regular census operations: the task of preparing the National Population Register. This new task, which is almost as large as the regular Census itself, has the potential of embroiling the Census in unnecessary controversies, subverting the impeccable reputation of the Census of India, and vitiating the sanctity of census operations. The National Population Register, as it is being created now, also has the potential of formally according Indian nationality to illegal migrants into India. To understand these potential problems, it is of help to look into the details of the process of Census 2011 and NPR that has been initiated now.
The Census Process
Houselisting and Housing Phase
The Census is normally carried out in two phases. The first phase of the Census, called the Houselisting and Housing Census, is carried out in the year previous to the actual census. In this phase, the Census organisation makes a list of the census houses and the households; detailed enumeration of the residents of these households is undertaken in the second phase, which is called the Population Enumeration, and is carried out in February-March of the Census year. In the course of the first phase, while making layout maps of different census blocks and lists of houses and households, the Census also collects information about the kind and condition of the houses and about the availability of various facilities like drinking water, sanitation and sewerage, energy for light and cooking, personal transport like automobile or cycle, communication facilities like telephone and radio, etc. During the current Census, information is also being canvassed for the availability of mobile telephones and internet in the census houses.
All this makes the Houselisting and Housing Schedule of the Census fairly large. This schedule for Census 2011 contains 35 columns, which have to be filled for each census household. The Census plans to get these schedules filled up for all census households during April-September, 2010.
Population Enumeration Phase
For the population enumeration to be carried out in the second phase, a separate schedule, called the Household Schedule, is filled up. This schedule is also very extensive. In addition to the number of persons in each household, the schedule seeks to correct information on gender, place of residence, age, religion, scheduled caste or schedule tribe status, education, occupation, marital status, languages, migration and fertility, etc. The Household Schedule of the last census, held in 2001, had 39 columns which were to be filled for each member of the census households listed in the first phase. The Household Schedule for Census 2011 is yet to be published, but is not likely to have less than 39 columns, and is to be canvassed throughout the country during February-March 2011.
The National Population Register (NPR) Schedule
This gives some idea of the vastness and complexity of the task that the Census of India normally undertakes. During the current Census, however, the Census has added another schedule to the two schedules mentioned above. This is called the National Population Register: Household Schedule, or simply the NPR Schedule. This schedule contains 15 questions, many of which are similar to the questions that form part of the regular Census Household Schedule that is filled up in the second phase, and like the Census Household Schedule, the NPR schedule is to be filled for every member of the census household. The filling up of the NPR Schedule thus constitutes a task almost equal in proportion to the second, and the main, phase of the regular census. And this task has been tagged on to the first phase of the Census 2011. The Census 2011 is thus undertaking the main Census exercise twice, first for the NPR in April-December 2010, and again for the Census 2011 in February-March 2010. The sheer magnitude of this task is likely to have an impact on the rigour and exhaustiveness of Census 2011.
The Issue of Confidentiality
Confidentiality of Census
Besides the question of sheer volume of work, there are other, more substantial issues raised by the decision to tag the NPR Schedule with the Census. The Census is carried out under the Census Act of 1948. The act provides a complete guarantee of confidentiality of the information collected during the Census. The Census schedules, once filled, are absolutely confidential; the records of the census cannot be called for inspection by any authority, not even the courts.
This confidentiality of information collected during the Census is the keystone that ensures the accuracy and sanctity of the information. The Census guarantees to the respondents that whatever information is solicited from them shall be used only for providing statistical inputs into public policy formulation, and particulars of any individual or household shall never be disclosed.
The Instruction Manual for Houselisting and Housing Census 2011 attempts to strongly drill the enumerators on this issue and advises them to gain the confidence of the respondents by clearly explaining to them that their details will be kept confidential. The following quotes from the Manual make it clear the importance that the census authorities attach to the issue of confidentiality:
“4.2 Before you undertake the work of canvassing the Houselisting Schedule, it is absolutely essential to establish proper rapport with the people of your area.
“4.4 To ensure willing co-operation of the vast majority of population during the Houselisting Operations, you must be in a position to explain to the respondents the use to which the data collected through Census is put. The information collected during the Census is used to provide statistics which do not permit identification of any individual or household. Besides, secrecy is maintained during processing of the data collected through Census and it is an offence for anyone to disclose the particulars of any identified individual. …
“4.5 You are, therefore, requested to assure the households that these details would be kept confidential. …
Confidentiality of the census information is the key to the accuracy and sanctity of the Census; and the key to the confidentiality of the census is the promise never to associate any published data with the individual or household, to use the data only “to provide statistics which do not permit identification of any individual or household”, as the Manual puts it.
To further emphasise the confidentiality of individual and household data collected through the Census, the blank Census Schedules carry a prominent legend on top saying “Confidential when Filled”.
Non-Confidentiality of NPR
The NPR Schedule that the Census is canvassing this time along with the Houselisting and Housing Schedule, however, does not promise such confidentiality. In fact, the purpose of the NPR Schedule is to associate the collected information with the names of the concerned individuals and households. According to the Instruction Manual for the NPR Schedule, after filling that Schedule, the Census enumerators shall give an acknowledgement slip to the respondent head of the household. This slip shall contain the names of the individuals in the household and other information. Later biometric measurement of individuals shall be done on the basis of these slips. The NPR register shall contain the names of the individuals, the data collected about them through the NPR schedule canvassed during the Census operations, their biometric data, and a unique identification number. Thus, instead of the census data being never identified with an individual or a household, all individuals and households shall be uniquely identified through the NPR data collected during the Census. This completely reverses the promise of confidentiality that the Census gives to the respondents.
To tide over this difficulty, the NPR Schedule is being canvassed not under the Census Act, but under The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. By thus quoting a different Act, the Census can perhaps avoid the legal consequences of disclosing the individual information collected in a Census, but it cannot avoid the consequent loss of sanctity of the Census operations. How can the census enumerator carry conviction with the respondent on the question of confidentiality, when he is simultaneously trying to fill two forms, one of which is confidential and the other is not?
The Census authorities are conscious of this problem, and the issue has probably been discussed within the Census organisation. That is probably why it has been decided to canvass the NPR Schedule with the Houselisting and Housing Schedule in the first phase of the Census the instead of with the main Household Schedule of the Census. Though it would have been natural to fill the NPR Schedule at that stage, when actual enumeration of individual takes place. But, the fact of the Census collecting data that does not carry the guarantee of confidentiality is likely to lead to the respondents to give evasive or false answers and thus vitiate the Census exercise.
The Census of India should seriously reconsider the advisability of tempering with their settled procedures and jeopardising their reputation acquired through 14 decades of painstaking work. There is no reason why the Census and NPR operations need to be combined. In any case, by deciding to canvass the NPR Schedule during the first phase, the Census has doubled its work. This work of canvassing the NPR Schedule could as well be carried out separately from any phase of the Census.
The NPR Process
The NPR Enumeration
The exercise to prepare a National Population Register is being carried out under the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. The NPR schedule being canvassed now collects information about all individuals under the following 15 heads:
1. Name of person; 2. Relationship to head; 3. Father’s name; 4. Mother’s name; 5. Spouse’s name; 6. Sex; 7. Date of birth; 8. Marital status; 9. Place of birth; 10. Nationality as declared; 11. Present address of usual residence; 12. Duration of stay at present address; 13. Permanent residential address; 14. Occupation/ Activity; 15. Educational qualification
All this information is to be filled on the basis of what the respondent declares; and the respondent knows that this is not uninterested information, this information shall form part of the NPR record and shall accord him/her the status of a Usual Resident of India, with a unique identification number.
According to the Manual of NPR published by the Census authorities, after filling in the NPR schedule, the enumerator shall hand over to the respondent head of the household an acknowledgement slip; this would entitle the members of the household covered in the scheduled to appear for recording of photographic and biometric data. According to the information about the NPR process officially release so far, the completed data shall be handed over to the Unique Identification Authority, where sophisticated computer software would be used to remove any individuals who might have been entered more than once, and assign a UID number to each individual. “The cleaned database along with the UID Number will then be sent back to the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (ORG&CCI) and would form the National Population Register”. Identity cards shall than be issued in a phased manner, on the basis of this Register.
The Process of Scrutiny
The National Population Register shall thus be created on the basis of the information as provided by the respondents; and the UID number and Identity Cards shall be issued on this basis. There seems little in the procedures that shall insure that the information is correctly provided. In particular, there is nothing in the procedures to deter illegal foreign migrants to claim usual residence of a long period as well as Indian nationality, and thus be treated as par with legitimate Indian citizens for all purposes.
The only process of scrutiny envisaged in the whole process is the following:
[After the NPR data has been collected and biometric and photographic information recorded] …In the next step, data will be printed out and displayed at prominent places within the village and ward for the public to see. Objections will be sought and registered at this stage. Each of these objections will then be enquired into by the local Revenue Department Officer and a proper disposal given in writing. Persons aggrieved by such order have a right of appeal to the Tehsildar and then to the District Collector. Once this process is over, the lists will be placed in the Gram Sabha in villages and the Ward Committee in towns. Claims and Objections will be received at this stage also and dealt with in the same manner described above. The Gram Sabha/Ward Committee has to give its clearance or objection within a fixed period of time after which it will be deemed that the lists have been cleared.
The process of scrutiny defined above is much less stringent than what is defined in The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Card) Rules 2003, where it is laid down that
Rule 4(3): For the purposes of preparation and inclusion in the Local Register of Indian Citizens, the particulars collected of every family and individual in the Population Register shall be verified and scrutinised by the Local Registrar, who may be assisted by one or more person as specified by the Registrar General of India.
Rule 4(4): During the verification process, particulars of such individuals, whose Citizenship is doubtful, shall be entered into the Local Register with appropriate remark in the Population Register for further enquiry …
The verification and scrutiny is thus to be carried out by the Local Registrar for every family and individual. There is no provision here for relying upon the data as provided by the individual head of the household.
Register of Indian Citizens and Population Register
Anticipating the obvious objections that such an abbreviated procedure of creating the NPR gives rise to, the Census authorities have claimed that what is being attempted is a register of Usual Residents of India and not a register of Indian Citizens. The Citizenship Rules, 2003 under which the exercise is being carried out provide for no such Register of Usual Residents. The Rules do envisage a Local Population Register. This Register, however, is merely the first step in the creation of a Register of Indian Citizens. The Population Register is to contain the data collected through house-to-house enumeration; the register is supposed to contain details of persons usually residing in a village or rural area or town or ward …[Rule 2(l)]. The Local Registrar is to verify and scrutinise every entry in the Population Register before it is entered in the Local Register of Indian Citizens. The Population Register does not thus have any validity except for providing raw, unverified and un-scrutinised data for the consideration of the Local Registrar. And there is no provision of a National Population Register.
The NPR process envisaged now, however, seems to make the National Population Register as the final register, on the basis of which UID numbers shall be assigned and National Identity Cards shall be issued. The process thus seeks to bypass the issue of stringent scrutiny and verification by merely changing the nomenclature of the final register from the National Register of Indian Citizens to the National Population Register. This is clearly beyond the scope of The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.
The procedure envisaged now seems to be designed to issue a UID number and a National Identity Card to all those who are found to be resident in India. The assertion that the register being created now and the Identity Cards to be issued on the basis of this identify “Usual Residents of India” and not “Citizens of India” is largely meaningless. The Usual Residents with their National Identity Cards shall be Indian Citizens for all purposes; and the distinction sought to be created is merely a fiction. The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, under which the process is being carried out, in any case do not give any authority for creating such a distinction in the final register.
The Question Regarding Nationality
One of the most seriously disconcerting aspects of the NPR schedule is the question regarding Nationality. The headline of the question concerning Nationality notes it as “Nationality as Declared” and the instruction to the enumerator advises them to record the nationality as declared by the respondent and not to get into any argument with him/her regarding this.
The Census authorities are apparently concerned about the possible consequences of such a question. They have put a note that the “nationality as declared by respondent does not confer any right to Indian citizenship”. They also advise the enumerator to advise the respondent that he/she can be penalised for giving false information. But, all these qualifications are immaterial for an illegal migrant. The NPR opens a possibility for him/her to legitimise his status as a resident and national of India.
The precaution of repeatedly asserting that what is recorded in the NPR is “Nationality as Declared” and not “Nationality” also does not have much meaning. All information in the NPR, including information regarding place of birth, place of residence and the duration of residence, is “as declared” by the respondent.
The question regarding Nationality cannot be something which can be left to the respondent to answer; it must be determined and verified by the authorities on the basis of documentary and other evidence. This also applies to the questions regarding place of birth, place of residence and the duration of residence. A national register of citizens ought not to record answers to such questions merely on the basis of what is claimed by the respondents. Those who are illegitimately in India are naturally expected to claim Indian birth, long duration of stay in India and Indian Nationality. Recording answers to such questions “as declared” by the respondents is akin to opening the borders of India and legitimising illegitimate foreign migrants.
If answers to the question of Nationality are to be recorded on the basis of the response of the respondent, it may be best to drop the question altogether. The Citizenship Rules 2003 anyway do not envisage this information to be entered in the Citizenship Register, because it is assumed that the Register contains the names of only Indian nationals. Question of Nationality is too sensitive and serious a matter to be handled so casually.
It seems that the decision to canvass the NPR schedule through the Census processes, as also the various aspects of creating the NPR, have not been fully thought through. To maintain the integrity and sanctity of the census process and to create an authentic and accurate register of Indian citizens as envisaged in the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, the following need to be considered urgently.
Separation of the Census and NPR Processes
Carrying out the Census and NPR processes together is problematic both for the Census and the NPR. It is likely to vitiate the census exercise, and it is likely to provide flawed data for the NPR. Creation of the NPR database is essentially a policing exercise; information provided by the respondent for this purpose needs to be cross-checked from various sources. Such verification is a policing responsibility; this should and cannot be mixed up with the Census operation, the accuracy and authenticity of which crucially depends upon establishing a rapport with the respondents and gaining their confidence.
Confidentiality of the information provided to the Census enumerator is the keystone of the sanctity and authenticity of the census process. An enumerator canvassing the NPR schedule along with the Census schedule cannot assure the respondent about absolute confidentiality. This alone is sufficient reason for separating the Census and the NPR exercises. The current exercise of NPR enumeration therefore must be immediately halted. It is highly improper to jeopardise the reputation of Indian census in the rush to create the NPR.
Rethinking the NPR Process
The NPR process has to be seriously rethought and brought in conformity with the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. In particular, the information regarding place of usual residence, duration of residence, place of birth and nationality cannot be allowed to be entered on the basis of the claims made by the respondents. A detailed process must be evolved for scrutinising and verifying this information before it is entered in the National Population Register.
The artificial distinction that is sought to be created between “National Population Register” and “National Register of Indian Citizens” must also be rethought. In case, it is decided to keep these two separate registers, then appropriate rules must be framed for the two; and the identity cards issued to Indian Citizens and non-Citizen Usual Residents of India must reflect this distinction.
Dropping the Question concerning Nationality
The question concerning Nationality must be dropped from the NPR schedule. Nationality and citizenship must be determined by the appropriate authorities and must not be entered “as declared”. This applies to other questions in the NPR schedule also, but the question concerning nationality is the most sensitive of these.
Suspending NPR Operations
In order to rethink the issues concerning nationality etc., and to ensure that the NPR Process is not confused with the Census Process, the current NPR enumeration process should be suspended. The process can be undertaken again after the Census 2011 has been completed. By then the various other issues would also have been settled.
Centre for Policy Studies