Don’t delay the census further - Hindustan Times
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Don’t delay the census further

ByHT Editorial
May 23, 2023 08:15 PM IST

The move to a smarter census is laudable but not worth the wait for such a vital exercise

The government will make sure that India’s next census (whenever it happens) is smarter and more dynamic, Union home minister Amit Shah said while inaugurating the new office of the Registrar General of India (RGI).

It is a matter of concern that the 2021 decadal census has seen such an unprecedented delay (Hemant Padalkar/HTPhoto) PREMIUM
It is a matter of concern that the 2021 decadal census has seen such an unprecedented delay (Hemant Padalkar/HTPhoto)

Some of the forthcoming changes which the minister spoke about are praiseworthy indeed. These include linking birth and death registration data to the national population register in real time. Not only will this give us a better idea of the state of the population, it will also make existing databases, such as list of welfare programme beneficiaries and voter lists more accurate.

This is a logical culmination to making a smart database of Indian citizens, which was started when the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was rolled out. To be sure, some of the success on these fronts is also a function of socioeconomic advances such as a sharp increase in institutionalised births in the country. Other innovations, such as the census data being collected electronically by handheld devices, have been deployed in other government surveys.

Laudable as these objectives are, it is a matter of concern that the 2021 decadal census has seen such an unprecedented delay. The government’s official explanation of the pandemic being responsible for this defies logic. When read with the continuing uncertainty about the conduct of the 2021 census, the government’s latest comments about making the next census smarter, suggest a truncated understanding of the importance of the census.

While the census is primarily a geographically tied headcount of the people, the exercise in India has offered much more information than just a summary headcount. A lot of the information in the census is meant to capture the dynamics within the population: The share of rural and urban population, their occupational status in farm and non-farm and main and marginal work, migration and its longevity, mother tongue and other languages spoken, quality of household dwellings and assets are some such statistics.

Previous census exercises have served as a treasure trove of information for both the government and academia by providing information, often at a granular level, on such issues. Even if one assumes that the census has been postponed to make it smarter in capturing the headcount, the opportunity cost of delayed information on other aspects cannot be justified. Let great not become the enemy of good.

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