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Hit by Covid-19, Census-NPR may be pushed to next year

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NEW DELHI: As Census houselisting and NPR operations, due to be held during April-September 2020, remain suspended on account of Covid-19, an assessment may need to be taken whether the remaining three month-period after June is an ideal and ample window for all states and Union territories to start and complete Phase 1 of the decennial exercise or if the entire exercise be rescheduled for April next year.

Census 2021, as per current timelines, is to be held in two phases — Phase 1 covering houselisting and housing, to be conducted along with the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, between April and September, followed by population enumeration between
February 9 and 28, 2021 with
March 1, 2021 as reference date.

While TOI has learnt that government is monitoring the pandemic situation before exploring a revised Census-NPR schedule, some experts including two former Registrars General of India (RGI) & Census Commissioners – A R Nanda and J K Banthia who oversaw 1991 and 2001 Census respectively – are of the view that a reworking of Census time-lines may be inevitable. In fact, an option they back is deferring the census reference date to
March 1, 2022 instead of
March 1, 2021, with houselisting in April-September next year and population enumeration in February 2022. “There is a reason why India follows this schedule of conducting population enumeration every 10 years in February as agriculture season, climatic factors, festivals, availability of enumerators and other factors are taken into account and migration is the lowest,” Banthia told TOI.

A government official who did not want to be named said census schedules in many countries had either been put on hold, delayed, largely shifted to online means or were being resumed in a phased manner in line with area-specific health and safety norms. “Ideally, census must be held in ‘normal’ year to ensure comparability of data,” said the officer.

Some factors that Nanda and Banthia said could weigh on the government’s mind while taking a call on Census-NPR schedule are monsoon and agricultural season, preoccupation of state and UT administration with containing Covid-19 as cases rise, possible non-availability of teachers due to need to prioritise lessons in view of disturbed school schedules, health and safety challenges faced by enumerators during fieldwork. Also big upheavals in economic activity and outmigration caused by the pandemic that could affect quality and comparability of data.

“In view of the situation since March until now and Covid-19 cases continuing to rise, rescheduling of Census dates is necessary for maintaining operational sanctity and convenience to ensure the integrity and acceptability of the demographic data, since it is an exercise with huge statutory implications,” said Banthia.

Nanda too felt the first stage of Census may have to be rescheduled as “we are already in June and the remaining period may not be enough for all states and UTs to start and complete the Houselisting phase”. The former RGI said delaying Census, whether to October-November or even next year, will not affect quality and comparability of data as population
on March 1, 2021 can be worked out based on extrapolation and projection. Banthia however added that for other data relating to economic indices and education, the period of 11 years instead of 10 may have to be taken.

In the past, Census reference date was delayed nationally only once, that too by a month. This was in 1971, in view of Bangladesh war and elections. Also, there are instances of non-synchronous census when the exercise in some parts of India is held separately.

“Like non synchronous enumeration in snow-bound areas is done earlier than the rest of the country. In 1991, census could not be held in J&K but population estimate was worked out by other methods for comparability of data. Thus there are different reference dates for certain parts of the country in certain censuses. In 1971, the reference date was shifted by one month. But in the current scenario, for the first time in history of Indian census, the reference date for the entire country will have to be reconsidered and that too by a considerable period of time,” said Banthia.

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