ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Making the 2011 Census a Tool for Good Governance

This note makes a number of organisational suggestions for the Census of 2011. It is just two years away and yet there is little sign of any urgency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the administrative agency, in planning and organising for a comprehensive census.

COMMENTARYdecember 20, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly18Ashish Bose ( is honorary professor at the Institute of Economic Growth and a member of the National Commission on Population.Dubey, Sunita (2004): “Weakening the Enviro-clear-ance Process”,India Together, August.ENS (2008): “Demand for Closure of Koodankulam Plant”, Indian Express, 25 November.Goenka, Debi (2000): “The Fragile Coastline”, Seminar, August (492).Kastchiev, Georgui, Wolfgang Kromp, Stephan Kurth, David Lochbaum, Ed Lyman, Michael Sailer and Mycle Schneider (2007): “Residual Risk: An Ac-count of Events in Nuclear Power Plants since the Chernobyl Accident in 1986” (Brussels: The Greens/European Free Alliance), May.Kohli, Kanchi and Manju Menon (2005): “Eleven Years of the Environment Impact Assessment Notifica-tion: How Effective Has It Been?”, Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group, in Collaboration with Just Environment Trust and Environmental Justice Initiative (Pune: Human Rights Law Net-work), May Lélé, Sharachchandra and Ajit Menon (2005): “Draft NEP 2004: A Flawed Vision”,Seminar, March (547).MoEF (1989): “Office Memorandum dated 9 May to Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, Subject: Nuclear Power Station at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu (2x1000 MW)” (New Delhi: Ministry of En-vironment and Forests, Government of India), – (1994): “The Environment Impact Assessment Notification: S.O.60 (E)” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India). – (2000): “Annual Report 1999-2000” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govern-ment of India).– (2006): “The Environment Impact Assessment Notification: SO 1553” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India). – (2007): “Summary Record of the 5th Meeting of Expert Appraisal Committee on Environmental Appraisal of Nuclear Power Projects” (New Delhi: Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govern-ment of India).– (2008): “Letter No SPA/2(1)/RO(SZ)/RTI/2837, dated 19 August”, To Divya Badami Rao, Bangalore, NPCIL (2008): “Koodankulam Atomic Power Project”, Nuclear Power Corporation,, accessed on 1 December 2008.Ramana, M V (Forthcoming): “India’s Nuclear Enclave and the Practice of Secrecy” in Itty Abraham (ed.), Nuclear Power and Atomic Publics: Society and Culture in India and Pakistan (Bloomington, Indi-ana: Indiana University Press). – (2007): Submission for the Public Hearing to be held on 2 June 2007 regarding the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project – KKNPP (establishment of units 3, 4, 5 and 6), Tirunelveli Kattaboman dis-trict, Tamil Nadu, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore. Saldanha, Leo F, Abhayraj Naik, Arpita Joshi and Subramanya Sastry (2007): “Green Tapism: A Review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification – 2006”, Environment Support Group, Bangalore.Special Correspondent (1997): “Way Cleared for Signing Pact on Koodankulam”,Hindu, 19 December.Staff Reporter (2000): “Koodankulam n-plant Work to Start in January”,Hindu, 29 August.Suchitra, J Y and M V Ramana (2007): “Fast Breeder of Expenditure?”,Hindustan Times, 23 October.UNSCEAR (2000):Sources and Effects of Ionising Radiation: UNSCEAR 2000 Report to the General Assembly, with Scientific Annexes (United Nations, New York: United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation).Making the 2011 Census a Tool for Good GovernanceAshish BoseThis note makes a number of organisational suggestions for the Census of 2011. It is just two yearsawayand yet there is little signofany urgency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the administrative agency, in planning and organising for a comprehensive census.The Ministry of Home Affairs is cur-rently not an example of success in any area. What worries me, as a census researcher, is the marginalisation of the forthcoming decennial Census of 2011 in policy and planning. The census organi-sation is very much under the ministry. Urgent steps are, therefore, called for to ensure that the 2011 Census is a good cen-sus in terms of enumeration, compilation, tabulation, analysis and timely dissemina-tion of data, not only for policymakers, planners and administrators but also for numerous other users of census data. It is necessary to have a historical per-spective to understand the relevance of census for governance. The census was introduced in Great Britain in 1801. The British rulers in India tried experiment-ingwith census from 1851 to 1872 and in 1881introduced the first regular census of India covering the whole country. They wanted the census to ascertain what manner of people they were governing so that they could govern the country more effectively. Bernard S Cohn, an American scholar, in his paper on “The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia” observed in 1970:It was felt by many British officials in the middle of the 19th century that caste and religion were the sociological keys to understanding the Indian people. If they were to be governed well, then it was natu-ral that information should be systemati-cally collected about caste and religion. At the same time, as the census operations were beginning to collect information about caste, the army was beginning to be reorganised on assumptions about the nature of ‘martial races’, questions were being raised about the balance between Hindus and Muslims in the public services, about whether certain castes or ‘races’ were monopolising access to new educational opportunities and a political theory was beginning to emerge about the conspiracy which certain castes were organising to supplant British Rule (17).Uninterrupted HistoryIndia has a proud history of uninterrupted decennial censuses ever since 1881. It is worth recalling that census data have de-termined the destiny of the Indian sub-continent in many ways. The Partition of India was based on census data on religion. The reorganisation of states in 1957 on a linguistic basis used census data on languages (“mother tongue”). The delimitation of electoral constituen-cies ever since India held the first general elections in 1952 is based on census data. The constituencies are delimited periodi-cally on the basis of census data. The constituencies reserved for scheduled
COMMENTARYdecember 20, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly20genuine 18 plus persons are denied the right to vote. This will strengthen Indian democracy, the largest in the world.(2) After the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution, there is devolution of power to panchayati raj institutions andmunicipalities and corporations. The tabulation of census data, especially economic data at the local level will greatly help local development programmes.(3) There is a growing conflict in many parts of India between the so-called “sons of the soil” and the outsiders – the mi-grants. A better understanding of the role of migrants will help governments in deal-ing with this complex problem. The census can provide a statistical frame for policies regarding regulating migration. (4) From time to time, communal con-flicts and violence take place in India. Traditionally, Hindus and Muslims are involved though of late, Hindus and Christians are also involved. The census does provide figures on distribution of population by religion but this is not enough. In particular, economic data in the census should be cross-tabulated by religion. (5) India is facing increasing terrorism. It is recognised that curbing terrorism is not merely a law and order problem – one must go to the root of the problem which often lies in frustration on the part of youth because of unemployment and theirbe-ing marginalised by society. Again, cross-tabulation of economic data by religion will reveal a comparative picture by religion and indicate where affirmative action on the part of the government is called for.(6) The census could collect better data on fertility which will help in a better imple-mentation of India’s family welfare pro-gramme. In terms of methodology, the census organisation could seek guidance from the National Family Health Surveys and District Level Health Surveys spon-sored by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.(7) Regarding quick tabulation of census data and its timely dissemination, priority computerisation and putting the data on CDs (which is currently being done) and also selectively on the web site will go a long way in improving the state of affairs. The census organisation must be upgrad-ed. A full-time secretary or special secre-tary should be appointed as the census commissioner. In view of the magnitude of the work involved, a permanent organisa-tion, a “Census Commission”, should be established which will absorb the func-tions of the Office of the Registrar General (which in its present form should be abol-ished). This commission should be given the necessary physical, financial and technical support. In short, this will modernise the census. ReferenceCohn, Bernard S (1970): “The Census, Social Struc-ture, and Objectification in South Asia”, paper for second European Conference on Modern South Asia (mimeo), 17.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top