New NPR records to include mother tongue of residents

The enumerator for the National Population Register, or NPR 2020, is likely to ask residents about their mother tongue while updating the database from April 2020, along with the house-listing exercise for the Census, according to a senior government official who asked not to be named.

This is for the first time that language information may be sought under NPR, though this information was previously collected under the Census exercise.

The NPR, which is a comprehensive biometric database of all “usual residents” in India, as opposed to the Census, which is a database of households, has generated controversy with the Opposition parties contending that the exercise is linked to the National Register for Indian Citizens (NRIC), which is aimed at identifying illegal immigrants. The government, which has in the past described NPR as the first step towards a nationwide NRC, now maintains that there is no link between the two, and that an all-India NRC is not immediately on the anvil.

At least two state governments, Kerala and West Bengal, have announced they will not participate in the NPR updation. At least 10 chief ministers have said they will not participate in an all-India NRC whenever it is rolled out.

NPR was created in 2010 and updated in 2015. On both occasions, officials said, data on mother tongue was not collected under the exercise. In addition to the mother tongue, NPR 2020 will also seek information on the place and date of birth of residents’ parents, apart from nationality. Though the section on mother tongue is not in the NPR 2020 form, the NPR manual prepared to train enumerators has a separate section called, “Code for Mother Tongue”. It lists 277 languages in India. HT has reviewed the manual.

The information sought under Census was for 22 scheduled languages and 99 non-schedule languages, as per Census commissioner’s report on languages released in 2019. An official privy to the development said the inclusion in NPR of the additional data point – mother tongue — was a recent decision. The “pre-test” or the pilot for NPR in September-October in 2019 carried out across 5,000 census enumeration blocks did not collect this information, the official said. Union home ministry spokesperson Vasudha Gupta said: “Language data will help better formulation of policy and help the government better target development schemes. Also, language data is collected in the Census; there should be no apprehension.”

The Census 2011 language data was released in 2019. But, unlike NPR, Census doesn’t correlate its data with individual houses. While NPR, which links data to a particular household and its members, Census data is released at aggregate levels — state, district, block, tehsil, and so on. It is, therefore, difficult, although not impossible, to drill down Census data and correlate it with a particular house or even a locality.

Though decadal changes in the languages spoken are collected during the census, the need to collect data on mother tongue in NPR was not necessary, according to experts.

Reetika Khera, associate professor (economics and public systems group) at Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad), said there were several unanswered questions over NPR. “Unlike census data, which cannot be shared [it is protected by the Census Act], NPR data enjoys no protection. The government collecting or maintaining a database with names can be a harmless exercise, but in the Indian context, even the name can give away one’s religion and/or caste. In addition, there is duplication between Census and NPR. Finally, contrary to government claims of NPR data being used for better targeting of developmental schemes, NPR data in the past was not used for schemes such as MNREGA,” Khera said.

The NPR manual also says that getting the correct date of birth of a person is “one of the important items of information” being collected under NPR. The enumerators may ask for documents such as birth certificate and school leaving certificate to ascertain correct date of birth. However, providing documents under NPR is not mandatory.

The manual adds that for those who neither have these documents nor they remember the birth date correctly, the enumerator will ask a set of questions to ascertain the approximate period of birth. For instance, the enumerator may ask whether one was born before the rainy season or after. If one remembers their birth date as per Hindu, Bengali or Islamic calendars, the enumerators will convert it into English calendar, the manual states.

The objective of NPR is to create a “comprehensive identity database of every usual resident” in India. The database contains demographic as well as biometric particulars taken from Aadhaar, the 12-digit unique identification number. When NPR is updated in 2020, it will be seeded with individual data points such as Aadhaar number, passport number, driving license, mobile number, and election cards, number among others. The manual, however, says that providing this information is voluntary.

The Congress termed the move to record mother tongue as “yet another attempt to engineer a new fault line in the country”. “We all know that government believes and wants a Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan. The intentions of the government are suspect, which is why there are continuous protests against NPR on the streets,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said.

The Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party defended the move. “There is no harm in collecting more information; it will lead to better targeted delivery and will give better inputs for framing policy,” BJP spokesperson Gopal Aggarwal said.

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