Will NPR Boost Welfare Policy-Making As Claimed by the Govt?
Updating NPR database will not necessarily assist in effective implementation of social welfare policies.
Amid ongoing country-wide protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Union Cabinet approved over Rs 3,941.35 crores for updating the National Population Register (NPR). A significant number of scholars have objected to the collection of data for the NPR due to its alleged linkage with the NRC.
Nonetheless, in a recent interview to ANI, Home Minister Amit Shah asserted that the NPR database will help the central and state governments in implementing social welfare policies.
In this piece, I argue that the minister’s claim is antithetical to the facts available in the public domain. Subsequently, I contend that updating the NPR database will not necessarily assist in the effective implementation of social welfare policies in India.
The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003 defines the population register as “containing the details of persons usually residing in a village or rural area or town or ward or demarcated area (by the Registrar General & Census Commissioner) within a ward in a town or urban area”.
Under Sub-Rule 4 of Rule 3, the UPA government in 2011 conducted the NPR by collecting information relating to all persons who usually reside within the jurisdiction of the Local Registrar. Thereafter, the current NDA government updated the data in 2015 via the door-to-door survey. Now, the government has decided to update the NPR (April to September 2020) in all states and UTs except Assam.
Why Not Use Existing Databases?
Some of the Modi government’s top social welfare policies include the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY).
The PMJDY, a financial inclusion program, was implemented through the trinity of Socio-Economic & Caste Census 2011 (SECC), the Aadhar card number, and the mobile phone number of an applicant. The targeted beneficiaries of PMUY were identified through an application by a BPL (below poverty line) householder consisting of a Jan-Dhan account and an Aadhar number. Such applications are matched against the SECC database to confirm the applicants’ BPL status. Even a recent CAG report on the performance audit of PMUY supports this.
To ensure that the PMAY assists those who are genuinely deprived, the program selects beneficiaries using housing deprivation parameters in the SECC database.
The SECC captures specific deprivation indices related to housing among households. Similarly, under the PMJAY, the inclusion of beneficiaries’ households is based on the deprivation and occupational criteria of the SECC for rural and urban areas.
Thus, Amit Shah’s assertion — that the NPR will be used to implement social welfare policies — is contrary to the evidence available in the public domain. In fact, a significant number of reports state that mostly the SECC and the Aadhar database aid the central and state governments in identifying the right beneficiaries for the social welfare programmes.
No Clarity on NPR’s ‘Real’ Purpose
The first home minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, stated that other than the delimitation of territorial constituencies, the major objective of the census was to collect and formulate basic economic data related to means of livelihood, and other economic activities of the individual and the State. Thus, the objective of the government must be explicitly stated behind data collection for updating a database like NPR.
Firstly, the Census of India website states that the NPR database has the twin objectives of collecting demographic and biometric information. A detailed eye on most of the demographic particulars — which the government aims to collect through NPR — will result in a mere duplication of data collected under the decennial Census of 2011.
More nuanced data on the socio-economic status of rural and urban households are accessible to the government under the SECC. Further, the UIDAI has already collected biometric information of Indian residents, which includes citizens and non-citizens, and provided a unique identity number in the form of Aadhar.
It is said that half the battle is understanding the ‘problem’ for which data is being collected.
Nonetheless, the government is not explicitly clear in its intention towards the NPR as the ‘twin objective’ has already fulfilled by the decennial census, SECC and Aadhar card. To put it bluntly, the government is trying to solve a problem that has already been solved.
Privacy Concerns Remain
Secondly, the government is adopting a similar methodology for data collection to update the NPR, as the decennial Census, SECC and Aadhar, which is unlikely to ensure an error-free NPR.
Thirdly, the government doesn’t promise any essential privacy safeguards for those whose information will be incorporated into the NPR database. The NPR data will be as vulnerable as that collected under Aadhar.
Fourth, the government doesn’t promise transparency in collecting data for the NPR. It has not provided any clarification over a recent controversy surrounding the questionnaire for the NPR.
In the past, the government has partially released SECC 2011 data.
Moreover, reports tell us that the government ‘compromised’ data for electoral benefit.
Finally, past experience shows that the government lacks the capability and expertise in utilising NPR data effectively. The government has even failed to show the real purpose of the NPR database. Amit Shah even told the media that the NPR will be utilised for national security but didn’t go on to explain or substantiate this argument.
NPR Shouldn’t ‘Distract’ From Essential Policy-Making for Social Welfare
The government should ensure that all of its social welfare programmes are designed and funded with future evaluation and review in mind. The government should understand it as necessary tool for evidence-based social welfare policy-making.
Lastly, if the government is serious about encouraging an evidence-based approach to policy-making, then it needs to develop a ‘research culture’ and incorporate ‘institution-building’.
The government needs to recruit more graduates of social sciences, law and economic sciences in its public services. Moreover, the government should establish dedicated social welfare policy-making research centres which work across ministries and governments.
Essentially, the government should not compromise its capacity to implement the beneficial and important social welfare policies that India needs in the long term by focusing on the NPR.
(Rakesh Roshan is a student of law at the National Law University, Delhi. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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