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No Census 2021 in 2022 either — govt ‘puts exercise on hold, timeframe not yet decided’

Last census was conducted in 2011 & next one was due in 2021, but was delayed due to Covid. Census-related field activities 'postponed till further orders', govt tells Parliament.

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New Delhi: The census, which was to have been held last year but had to be postponed owing to the Covid pandemic, has been “put on hold” for this year too, sources in the central government told ThePrint Tuesday. What’s more, it has “not yet been decided” when the census might take place, they added.

The extension of deadlines for processes required before the census can take place — including the freezing of administrative boundaries and listing of houses — mean that there’s no chance of a census this year, according to the sources.

Minister of State (Home) Nityanand Rai also told Parliament Tuesday that census-related field activities have been “postponed till further orders”, due to the Covid pandemic.

Answering a question by Trinamool Congress leader Sisir Kumar Adhikari, on the number of census officer posts that have been filled since requisition orders were sent out last year, Rai said, “A total of 372 posts have been filled in 2020 and 2021. Requisitions to fill 1,736 posts have been sent to the Staff Selection Commission and Union Public Service Commission.”

The census in India is held every 10 years. The last one was conducted in February-March 2011 and the next exercise was to be concluded by March 2021. While the 2021 date couldn’t be met because of the Covid pandemic, the process is being delayed even after most pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Experts, meanwhile, worry that delay in carrying out the census may impact resource allocation by the government.

Extended deadlines

According to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) official, the office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) had extended the deadline for the freezing of administrative boundaries to 31 December, 2022, in a letter sent to all states and Union territories in June.

The Census Rules of 1990 mention that administrative boundaries of districts, tehsils and towns cannot be frozen more than one year before the date of census. States and UTs are required to provide details on changes in the number of notified districts, villages, police stations, and tehsils to the RGI after the freezing.

Rule 8 (iv) says, “freeze the administrative boundaries of districts, tehsils, towns, etc. from the date to be intimated by the Census Commissioner which shall not be earlier than one year from the census reference date and till the completion of the census”.

But while the RGI cannot tell states to freeze their boundaries more than one year before the census, the rules don’t mention the minimum time required between the freezing of boundaries and the commencement of census. According to sources, however, it’s usually done, at the latest, three months before the exercise.

Since the freezing of boundaries will now not take place before December, there is no chance of a census this year, sources said. Moreover, a process of house-listing has to be completed before the census, the deadline for which had earlier been fixed at 30 June, but that too has been extended. The new deadline is not known yet.

Also readYou are an OBC if you score 11/22 — We traced nearly 100 years of caste in Indian census

‘Delay will seriously harm resource allocation’

Experts believe that not conducting Census 2021 on time will affect fund transfer from the Centre to the states, which have so far taken place according to the recommendations of the Fifteenth Finance Commission.

The Fifteenth Finance Commission, constituted in November 2017, based its recommendations on the 2011 Census — the last to have been conducted in the country. But while that data is more than 10 years old, the commission’s recommendations are valid only till 2025-26.

“If you don’t have an accurate count of population, then you will not be able to project what will be Centre-to-states transfers and a variety of other sort of allocations,” said Sonalde Desai, professor and director of the NCAER-National Data Innovation Centre, Delhi.

She added: “For instance, we say 13 per cent of the population is poor and you should get X amount of transfer for various programmes. You know that 13 per cent is poor, but you don’t know the base of the 13 per cent. Then you would still be using your old number, while fertility decline  and population growth have been variable across the country. You won’t be able to have an accurate projection.”

Former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, too, said that a delay in the census will result in “a lot of data becoming outdated, and that will have ramifications”.

Pillai explained that the Finance Commission allocated funds based on the census figures, and if there is a further delay, the commission will again take the 2011 census into consideration while doing the allocation, which could put states at a disadvantage.

“That data is outdated and if that is taken into consideration, states will be at a loss. The committee can make some assumptions, for instance a three per cent growth in population, but all that will be approximate,” he said.

Desai meanwhile, pointed at staff issues as a reason for the delay in the census.

While according to Desai, the house-listing exercise — a preliminary step in conducting the census — should have started by now, the government is faced with a staff issue, she said.

“If you were to do the census right, there would be an issue. And I don’t think any of us have thought about the reason for not doing it. But who does our census? It is mainly the schoolteachers. And the teachers are barely back to school after COVID-19. So, would we want to take them out of the instructional mode and do this exercise? That is why I can see an issue,” she said.

She added: “Suppose we were to go ahead and do the census, what would be the challenge? I’m not seeing Covid as a major challenge right now, but I do see staffing as a major challenge. At this point, we can’t divert teachers from providing education, especially after the consequences of Covid.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also readDecade without data – Why India is delaying Census when US, UK, China went ahead during Covid


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