The Centre government’s decision to postpone the first phase of the 2021 Census planned to start on April 1, was a much awaited decision in the backdrop of COVID-19 outbreak that has brought life to a standstill in India and across the world. 

Reasons behind the postponement: 

  • The 21-day national lockdown called by the Prime Minister is until April 15, but the return of any semblance of normalcy in daily life will take many more weeks. 
  • Extent and intensity of pandemic still unknown: India is still struggling to make sense of the extent and intensity of the pandemic and the accompanying and inevitable economic calamity. 
    • The decision to postpone these exercises is in line with Health Ministry guidelines of limiting mass contact on account of the coronavirus.
    • Amidst the growing threat of pandemic the President who was supposed to be the first Indian to be enumerated in the census and NPR exercise is also not meeting members of the public.
    • Concerns have also been raised as the field functionaries which need to go house-to-house to collect details for the Census-NPR, may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.
  • Huge resources need to be mobilized: What is for certain is that all resources, public and private, will need to be mobilised, first for combating the malady and then for bringing society and the economy back to its health and dynamism. 
  • The Census is a massive exercise, which involves mass contact and diversion of resources. 
    • I phase: According to the original schedule, the first phase from April to September, would have included house listing and updating of the National Population Register.
    • II phase:  And the second phase, in February 2021, would have been population enumeration. 
  • Request from States: The Government of Odisha and Delhi had also written to the centre asking that the Census-NPR operations be deferred by at least one month.

The Centre has done nothing wrong by putting off the first phase until further orders. Now the State governments can focus on the more immediate and urgent task of combating the coronavirus.

Discontent over NPR:

  • Several State governments had made their opposition clear to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, and the additional questions in the NPR pro forma that many fear is a starting to something more cynical and divisive that is based on some unusual ideas of nationhood. 
  • Though the Centre clarified that people could choose to not respond to these questions, it never bothered to address the underlying concerns. 

Takeaways from the unexpected suspension: 

  • Opens window for reconciliation: The unexpected suspension of the Census operation also opens a fresh window, and an entirely new context, for reconciliation between the Centre and States on the exercise itself. 
    • If the NPR exercise, and the allied questions regarding citizenship rights had turned India into instability, the pandemic forced the collective attention of the country. 
  • Future of humanity: The pandemic is a reminder that the future of humanity is collective and cannot be fragmented. 
  • An opportunity: The Centre can turn this crisis into an opportunity to restore mutually respectful terms for relations with States and harmony among communities both currently seems difficult to achieve. 

The Centre must use this serious backdrop to analyse India’s priorities as a country and revisit its idea of citizenship and plans for the NPR.

About National Population Register (NPR)

  • First created in 2010, NPR is a database of usual residents in the country who have stayed in a local area for the past six months or more and who intend to remain in the same place for the next six months or more.
  • NPR is individual and identity specific unlike the Census which only provides information on the status of the residents of India and population swings.
  • The electronic database of more than 119 crore usual residents of the country has already been created under the NPR in English as well as the regional languages. 
  • The data collection is done under the aegis of the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India.
  • The NPR is undertaken under the provisions of The Citizenship Act, 1955 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003
  • NPR was last updated (except in Assam and Meghalaya) in 2015-16.

NPR format of 2010

Fifteen identity particulars of the individual members of the household are sought in the 2010 format. These include name, relationship to the head of the household, sex, date of birth, marital status, educational qualification, occupation/activity, etc

Updated manual of 2020

  • The NPR 2020 enumeration exercise is supposed to be undertaken during April–September this year. 
  • Certain new information will be collected by enumerators in a house-to-house collection exercise such as Aadhaar, mobile, voter ID, passport and driving licence, if available with the residents on a voluntary basis
  • Unlike in the 2010 NPR, the new format for NPR 2020 requires residents to disclose their mother tongue and the places and dates of birth of their parents even if they are not living in the same household at the time or not alive. 
  • Individuals have to disclose the districts and States of their parents’ birth.






Basic details

  • NPR collects basic demographic data and biometric particulars. 
  • A usual resident for the purposes of NPR is a person who has resided in a place for six months or more, and intends to reside there for another six months or more.


  • The details found in the census about individuals are far more comprehensive and inclusive.
  • Population Census is the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specific time, of all persons in a country or a well-defined part of a country. 




  • Data for the NPR was first collected in 2010, and updated in 2015.
  • The next phase of NPR will also be updated between April to September 2020 ahead of the Census slated for 2021. 
  • The last census was in 2011, and the next will be done in 2021 (and will be conducted through a mobile phone application)
  • The census involves a detailed questionnaire.There were 29 items to be filled up in the 2011 census. 


It is generated through house-to-house enumeration during the “house-listing” phase of the census, which is held once in 10 years. 


It would be conducted in two phases:

  1. House listing and Housing Census - April to September, 2020 and
  2. Population Enumeration - 9th February to 28th February, 2021.


The NPR is a mechanism outlined in a set of rules framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955



The Census Act, 1948 and the Census Rules, 1990 provide the legal framework for conduct of Census.



The Registrar General of India shall act as the “National Registration Authority” (and will function as the Registrar General of Citizen Registration).

The Registrar General is also the country’s Census Commissioner.

Also readWhy There’s A Question Mark Over NPR Exercise?

Government To Postpone Census And NPR Exercise (Summary)


Image source: TH