Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dangerous Links between Census and NRIC in India

Dangerous Links between Census of India 20201 data collection and NRIC:

Abusaleh Shariff[1]
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[2]. 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[3], 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.

[1] Views expressed in this article are personal. Contact email:

[2] It is not clear however whether the NPR data was satisfactorily and correctly used to generate AADHAAR IDs.
[3] 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.

Feasibility of National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC)

National Register of Indian Citizens’ (NRIC) – 
Does the Assam Experience help Mainland States? 

Abusaleh Shariff (
Chief Scholar at the US–India Policy Institute, Washington DC;
and Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi and Bengaluru.

Read and Download Full Article  Click Here

The preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state of Assam is now a reality. The procedures conduct of preparation of a register and the due process utilized in the state of Assam is a precursor to similar exercise in other states to cover the whole nation. Ideally all democratic nations should hold a register of citizens especially those whose national economies are built through sustained and organized immigration policies. However, Indian economy which is growing mostly based on domestic demand and indigenous resource exploitation has no record of major immigration excepting those crossing border due to socio-political reasons.

This paper articulates possible execution of the design and manufacture of the ‘National Register of Indian Citizens’ (NRIC) by the ruling party coalition - a preview of things to come. It is utmost important that people at large ensure reconciling key documents with respect to the names, date of birth and other vital information so that a consolidated evidence is presented should such opportunity is warranted. This paper argues that the national and state government must amend the complicated and exclusionary methodology used in Assam to prepare NRIC across the nation. The NRIC exercise will cost the nation an amount which  is even higher than current level of defense budget and the cost to the nation is estimated to be two percent of GDP.

Read and Download Full Article  Click Here

English Language Augments Lifetime Income in India

Strange as it Seems - Knowledge and fluency of
English augments lifetime income and reduces inequity in India

Abusaleh Shariff and Asrar Alam

In India, the knowledge and fluency of English language generates better incomes over the lifetime. Empirical research of a recent all India household survey suggests that knowledge and fluency of English language is a most ‘secular income augmenting and inequality reducing’ factor in the nation. It benefits all types of Socio-Religious communities (SRCs) of India. Note that the fluency in English provides an opportunity to earn within a narrow band of income for all communities. Surprising enough, English language has a huge role to play to augment and effect income equity in India.

Demographic Dividends can be reaped mostly through access to better quality higher-level education and proper implementation of a well-conceived pan-Indian education policy framework. Since, education sector development is the responsibility of state governments, there is a wide diversity in medium of instruction policy; such as choice of early education in mother tongue, regional languages and Hindi as the national language. This situation is the result of India’s diversity, multiple languages and dialects, and the very foundation for the formulation of the States was based on languages. There is no country on this planet which has such a large diversity of languages and associated literature and culture leading to unique social value systems. Yet English, considered a foreign language is the most sought-after medium of instruction without which youth cannot make it to the higher levels of learning and associated higher levels of earnings.

It may not entirely be the legacy of the British Raj that in contemporary India imparting literacy and education in English has become a mechanism to overcome serious socially differentiated (motivated) economic differentials; and that contemporary globalizing economic system is anchored in this language. Today’s internet revolution, supported by technological innovation, is largely anchored upon the English language.

To capture the prevalence and impact of the English language, the authors estimate income earning differentials associated with the ‘knowledge’ and ‘fluency’ according to SRCs. A rare data from a national level sample survey of the NCAER is the source of estimates in this article.

‘English language ability’ is measured in two categories - ‘little’ and ‘fluent’.  Over all, only 4.8 per cent of individuals in India are fluent and another 20 per cent know English a little. The High caste Hindus (HcHs)’ are twice the level of average fluency and they constitute 43 per cent of all those who are fluent in English while their share in population is around 20 percent. Communities with low levels of fluency are the SCs/STs and the Muslims.

English and augmented Income: As indicated earlier, highest annual income per capita is earned by fluent English with Rs. 62,306 (2011-12 prices) compared to little knowledge with Rs. 31763 and with no English knowledge with a meager 19214.  Thus, earning amounts to a 40 per cent jump in income with little English and another 50 per cent when the fluency is achieved. Compared to no knowledge of English the fluency increases incomes by 69 percent. The virtuous side of this income growth is the fact the knowledge and fluency of English affects uniformly at similar scale within each of the SRCs considered in the analysis.

It has become clear that the knowledge and fluency of English is one the most dominant discriminatory factor in India in terms of the ability to earn higher incomes. Yet such discriminatory incomes get compounded when distinctions are made about its impact according to SRCs. At any level of English education, ‘all others-(HcHs)’ category earns considerably more than any other category. For example, the OBCs earn 36 percent less compared to this group even when English is not a factor. When the fluency of English is introduced an additional 25 per cent income increase for the ‘all others-HcHs); that is a total of 74 per cent increase in income.

These relationships for the SCs/STs are of similar levels and scale which suggest that it is only the ‘all others-HCH’ who gain substantially from the relative advantage of English language. First, they are the one who have better access to English education and on top of that they also have better access to English-favored labour market in India.

Interestingly for the SC/STs and Muslims, the income growth from ‘none’ to ‘little’ and ‘little’ to ‘fluent’ is a secular increase suggesting the fact that providing English education among these communities will bring considerable income growth which will even help them to come out of poverty.  The dominant finding of this research is that English language has emerged as the most secular factor that benefits all youth irrespective of SRCs. Surprising enough, English language has a huge role to play to both augment and effect income equity in India.

Quality English Educational Infrastructure: Let us consider these findings in the backdrop of a statement made by the current Vice President of India Mr. Venkaiah Naidu on the Hindi Divas-2018 - “the English language is a ‘disease’ left behind by the British”, stressing that Hindi was the symbol of ‘socio-political and linguistic unity’ in India. It is unfortunate that national as well political leadership of the nation shows hatred and callousness against English language, whereas English is also a constitutionally recognized language of governance and business. Further, while English has always been a well-respected and most sought-after medium of instruction in South India; the trend is catching up in the north Indian states in the recent years. The absence of government support in promotion of English at elementary and high schools has resulted in proliferation of unscrupulous English language educational institution all over India.

A fresh understanding of the role of English language in India is urgently needed and only through this process will the Indian youth be able to reap the demographic dividends on which the economic growth of the nation is so dependent on. In this context it is useful to mention creation of quality school infrastructure with an emphasis on English in the states of Telangana and Karnataka. Telangana has built 204 residential schools during 2016-17 for imparting quality education to the Minorites. Similarly, there are 64 Morarji Desai Residential Schools, 4 Minority Model Residential School, 9 Pre-University residential colleges and 5 Muslim residential Schools are in operation in the state of Karnataka. Other states especially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat can emulate creating similar modern educational institutions which will generate higher income and bring equity amongst the youth of India.
Shariff is with the US-India Policy Institute, Washington D. C and Alam works at the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi.