From 1881 when India conducted its first full Census to 2011 when it conducted its last decennial census, the exercise had never been deferred. But 2021’s exercise was postponed citing the Covid-19 pandemic and latest reports suggest that it may not be taken up even in the first half of 2022. The unanswered question is, if votes can be cast and counted ‘safely’ never mind Delta or Omicron, why does the census continue to be delayed? After all, it is far more amenable to masks, social distancing and innovative Covid-19 safety protocols.
By contrast China completed its decadal census work between November-December 2020, the preliminary results came out in May 2021, which despite controversies threw very useful light on the demographic changes taking place in the country, including how fertility continues to plunge despite China ending its one-child policy and how migration is redrawing its population map.
The US also completed census work in 2020, making online and phone-in options available for the first time, and by August 2021 it had released population data by race, ethnicity, sex, age, states, counties, cities, towns and other smaller areas, with a widely-reported finding being that the US population is now less than 60% White for the first time on record. Unlike China but like India, the census findings came not only with social and economic but also clear political import as they are the basis for redrawing congressional boundaries.
Also read: Census unlikely anytime soon as fear of 3rd wave of Covid-19 looms large
Good data is critical to good policy-making. But even though both quantity and quality of data leave a lot to be desired in India, the continuing postponement of the census underlines that it is placed far back in the list of priorities, unlike say mass political rallies or cheek-by-jowl religious gatherings and bazaars. Meanwhile, puzzling gaps between NFHS-4 and NFHS-5 survey data are also waiting to be resolved by the census. Policy planning, budgeting and administration all have suboptimal outcomes when they are based on outdated data. Census 2021 enumeration should not be delayed any further.
END OF ARTICLE