Census 2021 deferred till further orders: Centre
India has been conducting a decadal census from 1881 onwards and the 2021 census is the first one to be delayed.
India’s already delayed 2021 decadal census has been postponed “until further orders” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Union ministry of home affairs informed Parliament on Tuesday. This is not the first time the government has delayed the census citing the pandemic’s constraints even though almost all pandemic related restrictions on mobility have been removed and many government surveys and contact intensive exercises such as elections are being conducted .
While the government tried to underplay the gravity of the delayed census by saying that “population projections for India and states/Union territories for 2011-2036, based on Census data, are available in the report of the technical group on population projections published by National Commission on Population (ministry of health and family welfare)”, independent experts have expressed grave concerns on the census getting further delayed.
“Government policy and design is often tethered to census data. It is more than a population enumeration exercise, and much of the data is hard to ascertain without a proper census exercise. Without data of similar quality, policy planning can be negatively affected”, said Neelanjan Sircar, senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research.
The decadal census is the largest data collection exercise in India and collects information on a host of subjects, making it more than a mere demographic count. These include details of educational and employment status, migration, household amenities and distance travelled to work and the mode of transport used.
India has been conducting a decadal census from 1881 onwards and the 2021 census is the first one to be delayed. “The intent of the Government for conducting Census 2021 was notified in Gazette of India on 28th March, 2019. Due to outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the Census 2021 and the related field activities have been postponed until further orders,” Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai said in Lok Sabha. Rai was responding to questions by YSRCP MP Pocha Brahmananda Reddy in Lok Sabha when he made the statement.
“This government has repeatedly undermined the country’s statistical institutions and the inordinate delay in the census is just a continuation of this trend. Given the fact that the preparations for census have not even started, it is unlikely that we will have any data before the 2024 elections”, said Himanshu, an associate professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The decadal census involves two phases. The first phase of the 2021 census, which was to finish house listing – wherein details of all buildings, permanent or temporary, are noted with their type, amenities, and assets – along with updating of National Population Register was to be conducted from April 1 to September 30, 2020. The second phase – Population Enumeration – in which more detailed information on each individual residing in the country, Indian national or otherwise is noted, was to be carried out between February 9 and 28, 2021.
The government had earlier said that the forthcoming census would be the first digital census, where an enumerator would collect and submit data directly through a mobile app. This is in keeping with the practice of collecting data in electronic format for most government surveys conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO). NSO has been regularly conducting surveys such as the Periodic Labour Force Survey which collects data on employment in the post-pandemic period.
“The Modi government’s decision to postpone Census 2021 truly earns it the title of NDA or ‘No Data Available’ government. This is a government that is continually focused on suppressing the truth. From fudging GDP data to suppressing unemployment data to disowning consumption data, the government runs away from data that would showcase its many failures,” said Prof. Rajeev Gowda, former MP and chairman, All India Congress Committee Research Department.
“Census 2021 would reveal to us the true state of our nation. It is an opportunity to collect various data, including on caste, that would inform and improve policy. But the government continues to hide behind the excuse of Covid-19 so that it can continue fooling the people with empty rhetoric and fantasy fiction,” he added.