‘Good data is essential for effective policymaking’
The whole process of gathering, compiling, evaluating, and disseminating demographic, socioeconomic, and social details relating to all inhabitants in a nation or a well-defined area of a country at a certain period is known as Population Census. It also shows the changes in demographic features throughout time in the country. The decennial census, which was originally scheduled for 2020-21 but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will not take place anytime soon. The Union government has instructed states not to change the boundaries of districts, civil and police units, or other civil and police units till June 2022, three months before the country’s largest enumeration effort.
Despite the pandemic, China, on the other hand, completed its decadal survey work between November and December 2020, with preliminary findings released in May 2021, which, despite some controversy, shed useful light on the country’s changing demographics, such as how fertility continues to decline despite the end of China’s one-child policy and how migration is reshaping its population map. Also in 2020, the United States of America completed its census work, allowing for the first time online and phone-in submissions, and by August 2021, it had issued population statistics by sex, ethnic background, race, age, towns, counties, cities, and other smaller areas, with a widely-reported finding that the US population is now less than 60% White for the first time on record.
LEGAL ASPECTS AND HISTORY
The Census Act of 1948 governs how the census is performed. The bill for this Act was piloted by India’s then-Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Under Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, the population census is a Union subject. It is found in the constitution’s seventh schedule, serial number 69. The Ministry of Home Affairs Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner conducts the decennial Census. The Census Organization was formed on an ad hoc basis for each Census until 1951. The information gathered during the survey is so confidential that it is not even available to the courts of law. The Census Act of 1948 guarantees confidentiality. For non-compliance or violation of any aspect of the Act, the law establishes sanctions for both public and census officials.
The ancient literature, the ‘Rig-Veda,’ suggests that a population count was kept in India about 800-600 BC. Also, in the 3rd Century BC, the ‘Arthashastra’ by ‘Kautilya’ advocated the collection of population figures as a gauge of state policy for tax collection. The history of the modern census dates back to 1800 when England conducted its first census. James Prinsep conducted censuses in Allahabad (1824) and Banaras (1827-28) as part of the project in continuation. Henry Walter performed the first full census of an Indian city at Dacca in 1830 (now known as Dhaka). Fort St. George conducted the Second Census in 1836-1837. The Indian government ordered local administrations to perform quinquennial (five-yearly) population censuses in 1849. However, W.C. Plowden (then – Census Commissioner of India) conducted the first synchronous census during British control on February 17, 1881. Since then, censuses have been conducted every ten years without fail.
IMPORTANCE OF CENSUS
The Indian Census is the most comprehensive single source of statistical data about India’s inhabitants and their many characteristics. Census data is used by researchers and demographers to assess population growth and trends and develop estimates. The census data is utilised by the governments for administration, planning, and legislation, as well as management and assessment of numerous programmes. Delimitation/reservation of Constituencies (Parliamentary/Assembly/Panchayats and other Local Bodies) is also based on population data gathered during the Census. The census is the foundation for evaluating the country’s progress over the last decade, monitoring the government’s ongoing schemes, and, most significantly, planning for the future. The census figures are also vital for businesses and sectors to enhance and plan their operations in order to expand into previously untapped markets. The Finance Commission awards money to governments based on population figures from the census.
Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC)
For the first time since 1931, the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was performed in 2011. It’s worth noting that the regular Population Census is conducted under the Census Act of 1948. According to this Act, the government is required to keep the personal information of individuals private. Aside from the fact that the purpose of a regular Population Census is to provide an overview, it is uninterested in any particular individual or household. In a nutshell, personal information collected in the Population Census is kept private. On the contrary, government departments can use all of the personal information collected in the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) to grant and/or restrict benefits to households. This necessitated the right to verify the socioeconomic profile of households generated by state government data collectors, verifiers, and supervisors to be communicated in a transparent way with families, Panchayats, and Gram Sabhas. Because caste has an emotive component, there are political and social ramifications of a caste census, which are a source of worry for SECC. Counting caste has raised worries that it may assist to consolidate or harden identities. As a result of these ramifications, nearly a decade after the SECC, a significant portion of the data remains unreleased or just partially released. In India, caste has never served as a surrogate for class or disadvantage; it is a different form of ingrained discrimination that frequently transcends class.
Due to the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s Sixteenth Census (2021) has been postponed. It will, however, be the first digital Census, with self-enumeration options. It will also be the first time that information on families headed by a member of the Transgender Community and family members will be gathered. Previously, there was a separate column for men and women only. The census’s continued postponement demonstrates that it is well down the priority list, compared to, say, enormous political rallies or face-to-face religious meetings and bazaars. Meanwhile, the census is still working to fill up the gaps between the NFHS-4 and NFHS-5 survey data. When policy planning, budgeting, and administration are all dependent on obsolete data, the results are unsatisfactory. The census enumeration for 2021 should not be postponed any longer.
Author(s) Name: Harsh Anand (University of Lucknow, Lucknow)