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Amid rising instances of field enumerators coming under attack across at least three states for some of the ongoing NSS surveys and gathering mistrust over CAA and NRC, the house-listing operation and the updation of the National Population Register, set to begin in April for Census 2021, could run into rough weather. The survey system is already in “deep trouble” and given the increasing instances of such attacks, conducting household surveys with the Census as the frame would be “very tough” going ahead, Pronab Sen, former Chief Statistician of India and Country Director for the India Programme of the International Growth Centre, said. Amid the backdrop of protests and rallies on the new citizenship law, the National Sample Survey Office field officials have been attacked in some areas of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Sen said that this could have an effect not just on the Census but on other surveys as well.

What is Census?

  • Population Census is the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specific time, of all persons in a country or a well-defined part of a country.
  • As such, the census provides snapshot of the country’s population and housing at a given point of time.

Why Census?

  • The census provides information on size, distribution and socio-economic, demographic and other characteristics of the country’s population.
  • The data collected through the census are used for administration, planning and policy making as well as management and evaluation of various programmes by the government, NGOs, researchers, commercial and private enterprises, etc.
  • Census data is also used for demarcation of constituencies and allocation of representation to parliament, State legislative Assemblies and the local bodies.
  • Researchers and demographers use census data to analyze growth and trends of population and make projections.
  • The census data is also important for business houses and industries for strengthening and planning their business for penetration into areas, which had hitherto remained, uncovered.

Importance of Census:

·        Utility in Administration and Policy:
The population census provides the basic data for administrative purposes. One of the most basic of the administrative uses of census data is in the demarcation of constituenceis and the allocation of representation on governing bodies. Detailed information on the geographic distribution of the population is indispensable for this purpose. The Census also gives information on the demographic and economic characteristics of the population at the district level.
·        Utility of Census data for Research Purposes:
The population census provides indispensable data for scientific analysis and appraisal of the composition, distribution and past and prospective growth of the population.
·        Utility of Census data in Business and Industry:
The census data has many important uses for individuals and institutions in business and industry. It is very difficult to make a full assessment of the multiplicity of ways in which trade and business make use of the census data.
·        Census as frame for Sample Surveys:
The rapidity of current changes in the size and other characteristics of populations and the demand for additional detailed data on social and economic characteristics which are not appropriate for collection in a full-scale census, have brought about the need for continuing programmes of intercensal sample surveys to collect current and detailed information on many topics which are usually investigated at ten-year intervals in the population censuses.
·        Utility of Census data in Planning:
The census data is indispensable for social and economic planning of the Country. The Planning Commission utilises the Census data on the distribution of population by age, sex classified by rural and urban regions, cities, town areas and social groups to analyse the growth of consumer demand and savings in the process of development.
·        Utility of Population Census to Electoral Rolls:
Some countries have taken advantage of the enumeration for a population census to collect, at the same time, information needed for the establishment of electoral rolls. This procedure is not generally advisable because of the deleterious effect the secondary purpose might have on the quality of the census results.
·        Utility of Population Census to other types of Censuses:
Certain information collected as part of a population census, or incidential to it, can be most useful in conducting and/or utilizing the results of housing, agricultural or establishment censuses taken at about the same time or near about as the population census.
·        Utility of population census to civil registration and vital statistics:
Census data serve as denominators for the computation of vital rates, especially rates specific for characteristics normally investigated only at the time of the census.

Challenges and Experiences:

  • Cost of Conducting Census

One of the biggest challenges associated with conducting census in poor countries is the enormous financial costs of conducting the exercise. It is no secret that it is extremely costly to conduct a census.

  • High Illiteracy Rate in a Nation has a Negative Impact on the Conducting of Census

Countries with large proportions of their populations being illiterates face a great challenge during the conducting of censuses.

  • Inadequate Infrastructural Facilities in Certain Areas

There are certain places in the world where it is very difficult undertaking efficient population census because of poor infrastructural facilities such as bad roads, inaccessible roads or insufficient roads that connect various towns and villages.

  • Traditional and Religious Beliefs can Interfere with the Census Exercise

In many underdeveloped parts of the world where traditional beliefs are the order of the day, census officers face serious challenges when they reach these places and try counting the people.

  • Corruption Interferes with Census

Corruption during census can make it difficult to have an efficient population census exercise that provides accurate population figures.

  • Insufficient Census Experts

Another problem associated with conducting censuses in certain parts of the world is the insufficient number of professionals with the knowledge and experience of conducting census.

  • Insufficient and Ineffective Census Educational Campaign

How effective an educational campaign on census is prior to the census taking place determines how successful the census exercise eventually becomes.

  • Poor Demographic Maps

Because of demographic maps that aren’t reliable, it becomes very difficult for the authorities to know all the remote areas (especially the very remote areas) in the country and go there to conduct the census exercise.

Controversy over census:

  • Amid the anger and acrimony over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR), and a possible National Register of Citizens (NRC), which the government has said has not been finalised yet, there has been little thought regarding its effects on another growing challenge — the quality of official data.
  • In the last few years, official data has suffered from credibility issues and undermined confidence in the economy. The Indian statistical system, once the envy of the developing world, has fallen on hard times.
  • In 2020 and 2021, the government will roll out the 16th Census (and the 8th after Independence). The Census will be conducted in two phases — a house listing and housing Census to be conducted between April and September this year, followed by the population enumeration in February 2021.
  • It is a massive exercise — and massively expensive. The cost of the 2021 Census is estimated at ₹8,754 crore (and NPR at ₹3,941 crore), involving about 30 lakh enumerators and field functionaries (generally government teachers and those appointed by state governments).
  • Concurrently, the NPR — first prepared in 2010 under the provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and Citizenship Rules, 2003 and subsequently updated in 2015 — will also be updated along with house listing and housing Census (except in Assam).
  • News reports have been streaming in that data collection exercises like the National Sample Survey (NSS) are being hampered in states like Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Reports from Karnataka indicate that people are declining to share personal information with officials visiting households in connection with government welfare schemes, with residents turning away ASHA workers on a pulse-polio visit, fearing that somehow some of their information might find its way into the NRC.
  • At its core, the fears of a tainted Census stem from the NPR breaking one of the cardinal rules in objective data collection, the preservation of anonymity.
  • Anonymity must be maintained if people are to report information truthfully, especially information that can be used against them. Otherwise, people will report the information that is most likely to yield a beneficial outcome, whether minimising risk or maximising benefits, not what is true.
  • If respondents ascertain that truthfully revealing certain kinds of information in the NPR is more likely to result in questioning their citizenship, they may choose to obfuscate or misreport.
  • Thus, if the CAA and NPR are perceived as targeting a particular community, measuring that community, however genuine the intentions, through the Census, will simply not work