The government signed off on 87.54 billion rupees ($1.23 billion) for conducting the census and 39.41 billion rupees ($553 million) for updating the National Population Register (NPR). The census will collect data on population, economic activity, migration, as well as social and cultural information. The NPR focuses solely on creating a database of every legal resident in India, and will include demographic and biometric data.

Creating an up-to-date population register is seen as a crucial first step towards implementing a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC). The official registry of legal Indian citizens has only been used in the state of Assam, which has struggled with illegal immigration, but the government announced in November that the NRC would be expanded to include the entire country.

New citizenship changes recently sparked violent protests. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants fast-track naturalization to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – but it does not extend to Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed that the legislation reflects “a culture of compassion,” and has denounced violent riots, which he claims were incited by the opposition spreading “lies” about the bill’s nature.

Critics also raised concerns that a nationwide NRC is designed to designate Indian Muslims as illegal immigrants if they are unable to show proof of citizenship, as they are not included in the CAA.

New Delhi has strongly denied that the new measures are discriminatory in any way.

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