Current Affairs 15th March

Centre likely to allow residents to fill their NPR details online #GS2 #Governance

The Centre will allow residents to fill the National Population Register (NPR) form on their own, through the online mode, a month before the door-to-door enumeration by Census officials starts.

After filling the form online, residents will get a reference code that they can mention to the field enumerator at the time of her or his visit, according to a senior government official.

The details of the respondent would be displayed on a mobile application developed for conducting the Census exercise but no “biometrics or documents” would be collected. These details would then be stored in the system for future use.

The first phase of the decennial Census exercise — the Houselisting and Housing Census — along with updating the NPR was scheduled to be held from April 1, 2020. It was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is unlikely to be held this year. The second and main phase of Census — the population enumeration — was to be concluded by March 5 this year.

As reported by The Hindu on January 21, 2020, residents were to be given an option to self enumerate only in the second phase.

As per an annual report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the option will now be made available for updating the NPR also. The NPR earlier collated in 2010 and 2015 has an electronic database of more than 119 crore residents.

According to the recently published report for the year 2019-20, there will be a three-pronged approach for updating the NPR database — self updating, wherein it is proposed to allow residents to update their own data fields after following some authentication protocols in a web portal; updating of NPR data in paper format; and the mobile mode.

The report said that a “pre-test” on NPR updation has been undertaken in selected areas of the States and the Union Territories, except Assam, along with the pre-test of the Census. “The demographic and other particulars of each family and individual are to be collected/ updated during the updation exercise of NPR. No documents or biometrics would be collected during updation of NPR,” the report said.

As reported, the pretest for the first phase of the Census and the NPR, involving 30 lakh respondents, was conducted from August 12 to September 20, 2019.

The report said that the government prepared the NPR of all the “usual residents” in the country in 2010 by collecting specific information of each resident. “The NPR is prepared under various provisions of the Citizenship Rules, 2003, framed under the Citizenship Act, 1955. In 2015, a few fields such as name, gender, date and place of birth, place of residence and father’s and mother’s name were updated and Aadhaar, mobile and ration card numbers were collected. To incorporate the changes due to birth, death and migration, there is a need to update it again,” it said.

Additional queries

The questions for the fresh NPR have not been made public yet but the pre-test conducted in 2019 included additional questions, such as the date and the place of birth of the father and mother, the last place of residence and mother tongue, Aaadhar (optional), Voter ID card, and mobile phone and Driver’s Licence numbers. States ruled by non-BJP parties have expressed apprehensions regarding the additional questions.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on February 1 that Rs. 3,768 crore had been allocated for the Census in the financial year 2021-22. Though no separate budget for the NPR has been allocated in this fiscal, Rs. 3,941.35 crore was approved for updating the NPR in the financial year 2019-20.

Around 30 lakh enumerators — government officials and government school teachers — will each be assigned the responsibility of collecting details from about 650-800 people through both the online and offline modes.

The Registrar-General of India (RGI) is presently conducting field trials of the first phase of the Census and the NPR through the mobile application in a block, each comprising 50-60 households, in all the States and Union Territories.

Widespread dissent

The NPR’s link with the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the yet to be implemented Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019, has been opposed by many States and civil society groups.

The Citizenship Rules framed in the year 2003 say that the NPR is the first step towards the compilation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), or the NRC. The CAA passed by the Parliament on December 11, 2019, allows citizenship on the basis of religion to six undocumented communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who entered India on or before December 31, 2014

Though the government has denied that the CAA and the NRC are linked, there are apprehensions that the CAA followed by a countrywide NRC, will benefit non-Muslims excluded from the proposed citizens’ register, while excluded Muslims will have to prove their citizenship.

The Union Home Ministry informed the Lok Sabha on February 4, 2020 that “till now, the government has not taken any decision to prepare the NRIC at the national level”.

However, in March 2020, the Ministry filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that preparation of the NRC is a “necessary exercise for any sovereign country for mere identification of citizens from non-citizens”. It submitted that it is “the responsibility entrusted on the Central government “to identify/detect illegal migrants and thereafter, follow the due process of law”.

At the peak of anti-CAA/NRC/NPR protest in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a public rally on December 22 in Delhi that “there had been no discussion, no talk on an NRC for India since his government had taken power in 2014”. 

On December 9 the same year, Union Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament that “there is no need to create a background for NRC, we are clear that NRC ought to be done in this country, our manifesto is the background”.

Centre reconstitutes panel for studying Sarasvati river #GS1 #History

The Centre has reconstituted an advisory committee to chalk out a plan for studying the mythical Sarasvati river for the next two years, after the earlier panel’s term ended in 2019.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on March 10 issued a notification for “reconstitution of the Advisory Committee for the Multidisciplinary Study of the River Sarasvati”. The ASI had first set up the committee on December 28, 2017 for a period of two years.

One of the officials in the panel said the committee would review the work done by the previous panel and then formulate a plan. The committee would advise the Government Departments conducting research.

Right to dissent is central, says Sainath #GS2 #Governance

Pointing out that the right to dissent should be the central focus of press freedom, independent journalist P. Sainath struck a dissenting note in the report submitted by the Index Monitoring Cell (IMC), set up by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry with stakeholders to improve India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index and to evolve an objective yardstick to gauge media freedom.

“The right to dissent is very central… You know there are people filing FIRs and taking legal action against journalists (and other citizens) under the Epidemic Act, Disaster Act, sedition laws. We are shutting down the Internet for six months or more for whole regions,” Mr. Sainath made this observation, giving a complete list of names of journalists targeted by the government in his 12-page dissent note, along with three indices with a complete list of journalists who have been arrested and intimidated by the State in the last two years.

Mr. Sainath pointed out that the report failed in its objective to analyse the World Press Freedom Index (of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders or RSF), and India’s performance in it with a view to identify areas of strengths and concern related to press freedom in India.

To draw attention to the stranglehold of several laws on press freedom, Mr. Sainath pointed out 52-media related laws and their misuse by the State in intimidating journalists, adding that there was a complete lack of accountability of the state in the misuse of laws.

The 15-member committee, which had four meetings between May and December last year, has four journalists and government functionaries. Chaired by Kuldeep Singh Dhatwalia, Principal Director General of the Press Information Bureau, the committee has 10 government employees. 

Among the key recommendations is the decriminalising of defamation. India is one of the few countries in the world to criminalise defamation. The panel has also recommended that consent of the Press Council of India is a prerequisite before filing an FIR against the media or a publication. The meeting of the panel comes in the backdrop of a steady decline in India’s ranking in press freedom.

Pledge to accelerate Covid vaccine production in India: Quad leaders #GS2 #IR

DESCRIBING THE Covid pandemic as “among the greatest risks to health and economic stability”, the leaders of the four Quad countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, have pledged to “expand and accelerate” vaccine production in India.

In a joint op-ed article in The Washington Post, Modi, Biden, Morrison and Suga said: “The pandemic is among the greatest risks to health and economic stability in recent history, and we must work in partnership to stop it in its tracks. Now, we are launching an ambitious effort to help end Covid-19

Together, we pledge to expand and accelerate production in India of safe, accessible and effective vaccines. We will partner at each stage to ensure that vaccines are administered throughout the Indo-Pacific region into 2022.”

They also wrote that “ending and recovering from the pandemic, standing up to climate change, and advancing our shared regional vision will not be easy”.

“We know we cannot and will not succeed without coordination and cooperation. We will renew and strengthen our partnerships in Southeast Asia, starting with the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, work with the Pacific Islands, and engage the Indian Ocean region to meet this moment,” they wrote.

“The Quad is a flexible group of like-minded partners dedicated to advancing a common vision and to ensuring peace and prosperity. We welcome and will seek opportunities to work with all of those who share in those goals,” the op-ed by the four leaders said.

“Our foundations of democracy and a commitment to engagement unite us. We know we can provide for the safety and prosperity of our people at home by confronting global crises together, with purpose and resolve. We summon from tragedy the strength and resilience to unify and overcome. And we recommit ourselves, once again, to an Indo-Pacific region that is free, open, secure and prosperous.