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

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Delaying the Census

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The census is a complete enumeration of the entire population of any country. It provides information on the
size, distribution, socio-economic, demographic and other characteristics of the country’s population. In India, the census is conducted every decade, and the country has successfully conducted 15 successive censuses since 1872. The Census of 2021 was to be the 16th sequential national census of the country. However, due to the advent of the
COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption concomitant with it, the Census of 2021 was postponed. Even a year after, there has been no unanimous decision from the government regarding conducting the census. It puts a serious question on why the administrators are not aware about the negative repercussions that a delay or annulment of the census can have on its government policies and welfare programmes. India could have organised a census efficiently like the United States, Canada, and even China, which completed theirs in November–December 2020.

The census is a phenomenally vast data of statistical and administrative significance that has been available for more than a century. It is the most accurate and widely used data for a sampling frame and provides denominators for the computation of monitoring and evaluation indicators. It facilitates judicious and fair allocation of resources due to the constitutionally mandated redistribution of taxes, electoral constituencies’ delimitation, and corroborative action policies. Additionally, its data usage for policymaking across various levels of government cannot be overlooked. Hence, census estimates have been aptly termed the backbone of various governmental and non-governmental programme interventions.

While it was perfectly “safe” to cast and count votes during the delta or omicron variant of COVID-19, the reasons for delaying the census in the name of the welfare of the people and for the better interest of the citizens of the country appears highly unsettling. The arguments in favour of the census and its necessity at the moment are manifold. All the crucial goals and indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fundamentally need this data source for monitoring the 2030 Agenda for SDGs. In the absence of census figures, the use of projected population for subnational levels may lead to misleading estimates of several development indicators. It is crucial to access reliable, robust, and updated population and demographic data at the national, state, and district levels and have an efficient monitoring and evaluation of the 2021 to 2030 period in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for SDGs. The assessment of the developments made and whether the goals have been achieved or not solely relies on the availability of the current size of the population and various other demographic attributes. The census also allows detailed data disaggregation by small geographic areas and population groups. The recently published National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) data has indicated some severe changes in vital indicators like sex ratio at birth; researchers are heavily relying on the census data to compare whether the estimates are correct or there has occurred an inevitable effect of some bias due to the pandemic-led fatalities and migration. And hence, the survey results could be inflated. 

Furthermore, the census acts as a basis for deciding the sampling frame of several large-scale sample surveys of national importance such as the NFHS and the National Sample Survey; if the data is not obtained on time, conducting these surveys using the 2011 data would not be sufficient and would create biased estimates. It is majorly because planning, budgeting, and implementation all have suboptimal results when referring to an old data set. Several rural areas must have been converted to urban areas in the past decade due to development initiatives. Moreover, natural and forced migration because of the pandemic cannot be overlooked. The data on the reasons for migration being economical or led by push or pull factors also help design the coverage of schemes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and plans to prevent distress migration by generating regular income.

To avoid the problem of reliability
of the parameters generated and their comparability and to get an accurate and clear snapshot bereft of incongruity, we need to conduct the census. Not only these, but there are also other detrimental effects of the delay that would create more pronounced deprivation in the society. More than 100 million people would be deprived of subsidised food entitlements due to no new data available to update the number of entitled beneficiaries. Similar scenarios and problems would arise across various departments and schemes like senior citizens and widow pensions, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, to name a couple of schemes. The new census data would also help planners with the healthcare necessities to be introduced and social services needed precisely at various administrative levels during an ongoing pandemic. 

At this point, keeping all these facets in mind, the takeaway is to urge the concerned authorities to conduct the census operations at the earliest. It is high time that the government should expedite the process of complete population enumeration and produce reliable data publicly because only the census is what makes the population and its disciplines concrete.

Aditi Chaudhary, Nandlal Mishra

Mumbai

 

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Updated On : 11th Jun, 2022
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