Recently, the government postponed the decennial census exercise (Census 2021) till at least September 2023, as it informed states that administrative boundaries would be frozen beginning July 1, 2023.

 

Why there is a need to freeze administrative boundaries?

  • Before every Census, states are required to provide information on changes in the number of notified districts, villages, towns and other administrative units such as tehsils, talukas and police stations to the Registrar General of India (RGI).
  • Freezing of boundary limits of administrative units, at least three months prior, thus is a prerequisite for conducting the census, to prevent State governments’ tendency to create new districts and tehsils or reorganise existing ones.
  • If changes in administration boundaries happen during a Census, there would be chaos in the field over supervision of such areas. This could lead to some areas being left out of the Census.
  • The house-listing operations were traditionally taken up in various States at different points of time between March and September of the year prior to the Census. As a result, the government may have decided to freeze administrative boundaries to coincide with house-listing operations, thereby shortening the time between the freezing of boundaries and the actual Census enumeration.

 

Implications of delay in Census

  • Non-availability of reliable data — Though India has population projections at the State and national level, but it is not feasible to get reliable projections at lower geographic levels such as for districts and cities until census is not conducted.
  • Limitation of sample surveys — Information on the improvement in literacy and educational levels, economic activity, migration, etc., or the impact of schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is derived from sample surveys. But these surveys cannot be used to find answers related to literacy rates in villages or proportion of people in tehsil getting regular potable water supply. Such information related to population characteristics, housing, amenities, etc., are provided by timely conducted census.
  • Ambiguity in granting reservation — Delay in the Census means that the data from the 2011 Census would continue to be used to determine the reservation of seats for SCs, STs, etc., in legislature, local bodies, etc. Since many towns and panchayats have seen rapid changes in the composition of their population over the last decade, delaying census would mean that either too many or too few seats are being reserved.
  • Dynamic rural-urban distribution — The rural-urban population has been rapidly changing and there is high population growth in the urban areas over the years due to migration. For example, areas under the Bengaluru Municipality grew by 49.3% during 2001-11, while the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (11.9%), Delhi (11.7%), and Chennai (7%) had much lower growth rates. Thus, to enumerate these population dynamics, timely census is critical.
  • Enumerating Covid mortality — The pandemic impact on age distribution in severely affected areas would give an indirect approximation of the number of deaths. The census could validate or reject the various estimates of the number of deaths due to the pandemic.
  • Discrepancies in PDS entitlement — The National Food Security Act, 2013, entitles subsidised food grains to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population, utilizing 2011 Census (121 crore). However, today India’s population has grown to about 137crore and current delay in Census data would deprive more than 10 crore people of subsidised food entitlements.

 

Way Forward

  • Make timely conduct of census a Constitutional obligation — The Constitution mentions the use of Census data for delimitation of constituencies and to determine reservation for SCs and STs, but does not mention about the periodicity of the census. The Census Act, 1948, which predates the Constitution, also provides the legal background for several activities relating to the Census without mentioning anything about its periodicity. This puts the onus of deciding when to conduct a Census on the executive., unlike S. and Japan where the Constitution or the Census law mandates a Census with defined periodicity. India needs to simulate this practice for timely conduct of Census.
  • Dissociate Census from NPR — The decision to collect data for the National Population Register (NPR) through the Census operations was highly debated. Such controversies negatively impact the Census. Thus, the central government should disassociate the Census from a politically sensitive issue like NPR as it has already been considerably delayed. This would help complete the Census as early as possible and maintain reliability of data.

 

Conclusion

The first Census after 2026 would be used for delimitation of Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies and for the distribution of parliamentary seats among the States. Due to the disparity in population growth rates between the States, there could be changes in the distribution of seats in Parliament, and hence the Census is likely to be held in a more politically charged atmosphere, thus it is necessary that this Census is done as early as possible.

 

Source – The Hindu

 

QUESTION – A delay in the conduct of decadal census is expensive in terms of social, economic and administrative costs. Do you agree? Comment.