Forget secularism, even an NPR will be a logistical nightmare

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Published: January 2, 2020 8:36:17 PM

If decadal migration is around 7% & another 2-3% are left out in enumeration, crores will be left out of an NPR; it will dramatically worsen in an NRC.

npr, national population registerAs per Economic Survey, Annual inter-state migration between 2001 and 2011, it says, was around 5-6.5 million based on Census data; it was as much as 9 million using data from the Railways for the 2011-16 period. (Representative image)

The frequent connections drawn between the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in statements of various NDA ministers in Parliament – as also in official documents of both the UPA and the NDA governments – make a mockery of the current protestations that what is being planned is an NPR and that this has nothing to do with an NRC. But even if that were true, the government would do well to keep in mind that even an NPR is likely to be a logistical nightmare with very high chances of crores of people getting missed out; given the likely number of illegal immigration into the country, the bulk of those getting missed by NPR will likely be bona fide Indian citizens. And this is apart from the problems that arise from the large amount of migration that is increasing as more people leave their villages/towns in search of jobs.

In an article published in FE, PC Mohanan – who quit the National Statistical Commission when the government didn’t release the NSS’s jobs report – points to the increasing omission levels in various Census operations. In both the 1981 and 1991 Census, he says, 18 persons were omitted for every 1,000 counted and this rose to 23 in the 2001 and 2011 Census operations; not counting 2.3% of the population means around 3 crore persons got left out. The omissions were higher in urban areas (40 per 1,000 persons) in 2001 and in places like Delhi the omission rates were as high as 80. Indeed, as Mohanan points out, while the 2011 Census had said India has 121 crore people, the NPR prepared from this had just 118 crore persons. Add this with the number omitted and it would appear 6 crore persons were missed out in the last NPR exercise under the UPA.

This gets worse since the NPR is a database of the ‘usual residents’ of an area, and that is defined as a person who has lived in an area for the last six months and plans to live there for another six months. How large is India’s migration? The Economic Survey for 2016-17 uses both Census data as well as data from the Railways to calculate this. Annual inter-state migration between 2001 and 2011, it says, was around 5-6.5 million based on Census data; it was as much as 9 million using data from the Railways for the 2011-16 period. The data, the Economic Survey says, shows that the inter-district (within the state) is even higher. It is not clear how much of this migratory population will be left out in the NPR but based on the ‘usual resident’ status, it could be quite high. And when the government finally decides – if it does – that an NRC has to be created from the NPR, it may find that a large number of people are not traceable as they have moved on, in search of the next job. This may not matter much in a Census operation since the citizen gets nothing in return for the details she provides; in an NRC – or an NPR that could be a precursor to an NRC – the states are much higher. While the UPA finally ditched the idea of an NRC – going by the home ministry’s 2005-06 annual report – since providing citizenship was very difficult, instead of resorting to polemics, the government needs to come up with real solutions to these very real problems that will arise as the NPR list is updated.

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