The Union Cabinet on Tuesday gave its go-ahead to undertake the country’s 16th Census exercise to count the country’s population. A simultaneous exercise to prepare the National Population Register (NPR) will also be undertaken in April 2020. The 2011 Census had pegged India’s population at 1.21 billion—a 17.6% rise from 2001.
The Cabinet has allocated ₹13,000 crore for updating the Census and the NPR. The NPR, started in 2010, was last updated in 2015, following a door-to-door exercise by officials under the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
NPR is distinct from the Census. The register’s objective, according to the Censusindia website, is to create “a comprehensive identity database in the country with full identification and other details by registering each and every usual resident in the country". The idea is to better target benefits and services and prevent identity fraud.
The Cabinet’s decision comes just days after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), that has met with widespread protests and violence in the country.
“We are launching a massive programme of national Census which happens every 10 years. Every house will be mapped and listed from April to September 2020 and in February 2021 the headcount will be done," said Prakash Javadekar, Union minister of information and broadcasting, adding that the exercise was being undertaken to ensure that “all beneficiaries of schemes such as Ayushman Bharat and Ujjwala are accounted for and receive the benefits."
Javadekar also added that no proof of citizenship or documentation or biometric would be needed at the preliminary stages. “From April to September 2020 officials will go door to door and in February 2021, the headcount will happen. Technology will be used to make the process easier. Earlier there used to be a very long form which needed to be filled out, now an app has been designed and whatever you fill on the app and will be accepted," Javadekar said.
Shah had also reiterated that a cleaner and more streamlined Census would prepare the ground for compiling data for NPR, adding that the register had the potential to club all other forms of identification such as Aadhaar, permanent account number (PAN), driving license and electoral photo identity card under one platform.
Earlier this year, the Centre had decided to prepare an NPR by September 2020 to lay the foundation for rolling out a citizens’ register across the country, which could potentially lay the basis of a pan-India National Register of Citizens exercise.