‘Census must be held to plan policies & schemes’
As India’s population is projected to surpass China by the middle of this year, concerns are being raised by experts on the lack of an updated census to plan its future policies and programmes.
NEW DELHI: As India’s population is projected to surpass China by the middle of this year, concerns are being raised by experts on the lack of an updated census to plan its future policies and programmes.
According to recent data released by the UN, India’s population is expected to reach 142.86 crore against China’s 142.57 crore. While China’s last census was conducted in 2020, demographers have used India’s 2011 census to calculate projections along with data from Sample Registration System (SRS) on births, deaths, and fertility rates.
The decennial census, which was scheduled to be completed by March 2021, was indefinitely postponed by the government due to Covid -19. In February this year, it told Parliament that the census was put on hold until further orders. Significantly, it is for the first time in the 150-year history of census operations in India that the exercise was put on hold.
Speaking to TNIE, Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India said that the census survey is unparalleled in accuracy and in providing a range of data sets on gender, ownership of assets, living conditions of people, movement and migration and facilities such as availability of water and toilets.
“Several government schemes still use the Census 2011 data to identify potential beneficiaries. Since this data is over a decade old, its relevance is limited. Using old data may lead to exclusion of people from many schemes. Census helps in determining the actual number of people in an area, their educational and financial status, and helps in allocating resources based on authentic data,” said Muttreja.
While the census counts actual numbers, several other surveys are sample surveys that are estimates, point out experts. Noted economist and former chief statistician Pronab Sen said that while data from sources like the Sample Registration System is more or less accurate, the pandemic has made a substantial difference in calculating the data.
“Covid has made the situation more difficult with no accurate figures on birth, death, and migration,” he said. The government has not even notified the house listing, which happens six or seven months before the actual census, he said. “If the government starts working in June or July, then we could have the census next year itself,” he said.
However, further delay will adversely impact government-sponsored schemes and beneficiaries, he said.
“Delay in the census will hit several welfare programmes, policies, and resource allocations, which are based upon population data. Besides that, delimitation of constituencies also depends on the demographic data,” said Sen.
Total population doesn’t matter much: Pronab Sen
“Everybody is talking about the total population. The total population doesn’t matter that much. What matters is the distribution of people by location and age, because different programmes are targeting different parts of the population. This concern has been there even before the UN population report came out,” Sen said. “Delay in holding census will hit several welfare programs, policies, and resource allocations, which are based upon population data. Besides that, delimitation of constituencies also depends on the demographic data,” he added.