The once-in-a-decade Population Census (2020-21) was postponed due to COVID, but the Centre seems to be in no hurry to carry out the exercise belatedly even as state and Union level programmes for the poor and needy suffer in the absence of fresh data. The data have not been updated since 2011.
Almost half the year is gone, but there are still no signs of the Census work resuming. Had it happened on time, the new population and household data would have been released by March 31, 2021. However, COVID-induced lockdowns threw the government plans off gear.
Now that the economy has reopened and tax collections are improving every month, it is high time the Union Home Ministry declared the dates for conducting the new Census, say experts.
TN Census department all ready
The local Census department in Tamil Nadu said it was ready to go door-to-door and gather details, provided the Centre gave its nod. State officials said the delay is impacting government development schemes and welfare programmes. It also results in unreliable estimates from other surveys on consumption, health and employment, which depend on Census data to determine policy and welfare activities, a Secretariat official said.
For example, the state government wants to know the population of Chennai and a few other cities in the state. As of now, the government has only 2011 Census data. Since then Chennai alone has undergone a transformation; the number of vehicles and apartments has increased manifold as more and more people migrate to cities. Traffic on main roads is not the same as in 2011.
India, however, is not the only country to postpone its population Census in 2020. Eighteen other countries pushed their census deadlines to 2021 while four countries postponed it to 2022 or beyond, states a survey by the United Nations Statistics Division.
Another survey in December-January 2021 found that at least seven countries had postponed their Census exercise to 2022 or beyond.
It’s a necessity
Experts say that since economic and government activities, including elections, have re-started across India, and the government has lifted most pandemic-related restrictions, there is no reason for prolonging the launch of Census-related work.
“For small countries it is okay to use the Civil Registration System (CRS) for declaring welfare programmes, but countries like India need a proper Census; otherwise, governments won’t know how many people are living in rural areas, how many in cities, the number of children going to schools, birth rate of various state, fertility etc,” the Secretariant official said.
The local Census department in Tamil Nadu is gearing up for the exercise though, by preparing to launch training the Census workers. “Once the Centre announces the new schedule, we will start the training schedule. First, household details will be collected, followed by population data,” said an official.