Dangerous Links between Census of India 20201 data collection and NRIC:
US-India Policy Institute, Washington D. C
12th December 2019
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Every ten years, the second year at the turn of the decade, India undertakes population count known as Census. The first synchronous census was held in 1881 and the 16th population count will be conducted during February and reference date March 1st, 2021. Besides population count the 15th census (2011) collected, for the first time after 1931 data on Socio-Economic and Caste Status. This data was never analyzed because the self-reported castes and sub-castes were too many and difficult to aggregate into meaningful categories. The 2021 census (16th enumeration) therefore will be based on a list of pre-determined SCs, STs and OBCs categorization notified by each state.
Census in India is conducted in two phases - ‘house listing’ and population enumeration. The 15th census house listing (2011 Census) for the first time collected additional data that was needed to prepare the National Population Register (NPR) which was used to generate a 12-digit unique identification number to all usual (registered) residents issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). This number is popularly known as AADHAAR. Biometric information was also collected during this phase.
The house listing phase of the 16th Indian census is scheduled between April and September 2020. Data for updating the NPR and biometric will again be collected from all usual residents. It is important to mention that such data and the biometric are essential for modern day developmental and welfare planning of the nation.
There is new effort by the government of India to prepare ‘national register of Indian citizens (NRIC), a mandate anchored on the Citizenship Act 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003. This bill is now passed both in Indian Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, creating such a register for the whole nation of 1.4 billion people is a tall order.
After reviewing relevant Acts, Rules and Directives, it is found that the agency which is empowered to prepare NRIC is the Registrar General and Census Commissioner (RGCC) whose primary responsibility is to conduct census and undertake registrations of births, deaths and marriages. Whether this agency has all the wherewithal to determine ‘citizenship’ of an individual is questionable. Yet the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 has assigned the responsibility for preparing the NRIC to the RGCC.
The Registrar General of Census is also the Registrar General of Births and Deaths (Act 1969), Registrar General for NPR and Registrar General of Citizen Registration (para 2 (m) of the Citizenship Rules-2003). It is clear from the review of acts and rules that the ‘house listing’, population count and NPR will be the primary data base which will be used to prepare NRIC. One needs to investigate the legality of multiple agency data utilization; and what legal provisions allow data collected through census to be used for the purposes of NPR and NRIC.
Further, the NRIC is likely to get support from a surrogate - Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill-2016. Although this bill was lapsed on 3rd June 2019; the current government got it re-introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 2019 and will also be introduced in Rajya Sabha soon. This amendment if passed in the parliament, refugees from minority communities namely Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh. Parsi or Christian coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be eligible for Indian citizenship, excluding people from the Muslim community. It would be most appropriate that this bill included all south Asian nations including Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives. The corollary, however, of this seemingly noble amendment is that only the Muslims living in India but excluded from the NRIC list are susceptible to legal arrest, impounding and extradition.
The local government officials belonging to the census of India, the election commission and district bureaucracy prepare the so-called list of ‘India citizens. Such list is approved by state level authorities, gazetted and published as ‘national register of citizens’ for that state. It then becomes the responsibility of the individuals to check for listing of their own names and names of family members. Should they find their names are missing they can either accept the status as not Indian citizens or approach the ‘foreigner’s tribunals to challenge their exclusion. Although the decision of these tribunals is final, yet one can reach out to the hierarchical system of courts of law the ultimate steps to seek justice and secure right as the Indian citizen. As is already a common knowledge from Assam Experience that this process is not only cumbersome, but also complicated, costly, time consuming and not foolproof.
This author’s observation, that the Muslim community of India is under stress from the official and often irresponsible discourses of extending NRIC to the whole nation. Secondly the citizenship amendment bill, is highly discriminatory, if passed can be misused in a manner that majority of the poor, rural, illiterate and low-income Muslim households will be under the risk of exclusion from the NRIC list. Murmuring that Muslims should boycott the NRIC has begun. However, this author suggests that the people of India can seek the following safeguards at the time of data sharing to the government agencies and functionaries.
1. The house listing will be undertaken during March to September 2020. The census takers will visit each house/household. The respondents often the household head should seek a ‘clearly written statement of purpose and promise’ that the data collected during ‘house listing’ and for NPR, and subsequently at the time of enumeration will be used only for the purpose of Census Counts, Data Aggregation and Policy Analysis. Ideally this statement must be signed by the President of India. It is a generic promise like the one Reserve Bank of India governor does on the printed bank currency notes.
2. That the Census officials issue an acknowledgment to the fact that personal data was collected after serving the written promise and that the data will not be shared or used for any other purpose. This acknowledgment should record time, date and place of data extraction.
3. That a printed copy of all the data collected is issued to the individual for her own data file and future use. This data can also be made available through an online system of data retrieval by the individual.
4. Since the overall foreign-born residents in India according to earlier censuses are minuscule, it does not make sense that every Indian resident is made to prove her citizenship through an unmanageable and expensive process which is for example adopted in Assam last year. The government must change the methodology to identify hot-spots and living areas where illegal residents most likely live. It is instructive to state that similar effort in the USA to incorporate a question asking the citizenship in the Census was shot down by the Supreme Court of the USA.
 It is not clear however whether the NPR data was satisfactorily and correctly used to generate AADHAAR IDs.
 The USIPI is currently processing data on residents born out of India as documented from the Census of India 2011; and results can be shared as per requirement of the policy initiatives and for academic purposes.