With the 21-day lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19 having come into force, the Centre on Wednesday postponed the process of updating the contentious National Population Register (NPR) and the first phase of the Census 2021.
The house listing and housing enumeration of the Census 2021 and NPR were slated to be carried out simultaneously from April 1 to September 30.
There have been widespread protests across the country since mid-December against the amended Citizenship Act (CAA), NPR, and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
In the wake of the lockdown, protesters have vacated most protest sites, including the one in the national capital’s Shaheen Bagh.
In a statement, the home ministry said Census 2021 was scheduled to be conducted in two phases —house listing and housing census during April-September and the second phase of population enumeration from February 9 to 28, 2021.
The updating of NPR was proposed to be done along with the Phase I of Census 2021 in all the states and Union territories, except Assam.
However, some of the state governments had either passed resolutions in their respective Assemblies, or issued orders, that they will carry out the NPR based on the 2010 questionnaire and not the revised one.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah had also assured in Parliament that none will be asked to show any documents during the NPR process, or marked ‘D’, or ‘doubtful’ citizen category. But, misgivings about the NPR process have remained since the Citizenship Act Rules of 2003 state that the NPR process will be followed by preparation of a National Register of Indian Citizens.
There have been demands that this should be amended and the provision related to the NRC process deleted.
The home ministry on Wednesday said due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, high alert has been declared by the Centre as well as the states and union territories.
Keeping in view these issues, the first phase of Census 2021 and updating of NPR, which was to begin on various dates decided by the state and union territory governments beginning April 1 and various related field activities, are postponed until further orders, the statement said.
Officials said since the census and NPR exercise require the enumerators to visit every household and meet people, it is not possible to carry out the exercise in the wake of the lockdown. The lockdown has also meant all government, both central and state, offices have been asked to shut until April 14.
The states which have been opposed the NPR are Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. They had, however, said they will cooperate with the house listing phase of the Census.
The objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country.