Growing tensions against NPR-NRC halt Census work: WB

The recent mob attack on a volunteer collecting information for an NGO have made teachers to be chosen for the Census exercise anxious

With district-level preparations running way behind schedule, the preparations for the house-listing phase of the Census of 2021 have been hit in the state of West Bengal, reported the Hindustan Times.

The Trinamool Congress had decided against collecting data for the NPR house-listing phase of the census and later West Bengal officials had issued fresh orders mentioning only the Census and sought data from the districts by the end of January.

However, the growing tensions over the National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) and a series of mob attacks on government employees and workers of NGOs have altogether halted the process of identifying enumerators for the Census exercise.

In West Bengal’s Birbhum district, 20-year-old Chamki Khatun who was collecting data for Internet Saathi, a digital literacy initiative for rural women by Google India and the Tata Trust was targeted as local villagers thought she was collecting data for the NRC.

Nazeeran Bano’s mobile phone was snatched from her and all the data she had collected for the economic census for over 1000 families was deleted from her phone. The crowd asked to prove that she was a Muslim by reciting a verse from the Quran. Only after she showed them an “Ayat-al-Kursi” (The Throne verse) card which was in her wallet, was the crowd pacified.

Biswajit Majumdar, BDO of Raghunathganj II in Murshidabad who had written to government officials within his jurisdiction to submit details of officers by January 6 told HT, “All work related to the census has been halted. Nothing is happening for the time being. No enumerator has been identified or appointed.”

“Identification of enumerators has been put on hold. Since the NPR has been linked with census and NPR is the first step towards NRC, we first need to get a clear idea on how to separate the two,” said the chairman of a civic body in Hooghly district who did not want to identify himself.

After the attack on the women collecting data for initiatives other than the Census and NPR, Mosharaf Hussain, Chairman of the Murshidabad district council said that the process had been halted because of on-ground tensions and threats of mob fury.

Badaruddoza Khan, a former Lok Sabha member belonging to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a leader of the All Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA), said that after the incident, teachers were in a state of panic over getting selected for the Census work.

“The ground situation is very tense. An intense campaign needs to be carried out to convince people that the Census has nothing to do with NRC. The state government needs to instil trust in people’s minds that it will never link NPR with the Census. Steps need to be taken very cautiously,” said Khan.

To clear this, Left parties have decided to distribute leaflets that will explain people on how to differentiate between the questionnaires for NRC and Census.

“The administration will first wait for the tension to ease, and launch a campaign differentiating between census and NPR, before attempting to start the house-listing exercise,” said Gorachand Barman, BDO, Mayureshwar, in Birbhum district.

The house-listing phase of the Census can be completed within a 45-day period anytime between April to September, but a TMC minister, on condition of anonymity said that the government would probably push the exercise before the municipal elections that are expected to be held during April and May.

On January 4, the government had reiterated that no document would be collected during the NPR exercise and that the government had not taken any decision to prepare the NRC at the national level.