A futile exercise for socio-economic and caste census 2011

By Dr M.Vijayanunni,

This socio-economic and caste census 2011 is essentially only the BPL survey conducted through the state governments for each five year plan and just by giving it the high-sounding name of “Socio-Economic and Caste Census” it does not become one. It remains a poverty survey meant to yield only poverty statistics and will not yield any other socio-economic data. As for the attempted caste data collection through this survey, it will not carry the authenticity and accuracy of a national census conducted by the census commissioner of India under the Census Act, 1948 which is essential for an all-India caste census.

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No time frame for processing caste data

If the government of India had been serious about generating caste data from the present exercise, they should have announced what socio-economic caste-wise data tables will be generated from this so-called socio-economic and caste census 2011, and what is the time frame for the compilation and tabulation of the caste data, to say the least. Government has been silent on this.In every national census this information about the data output is available in advance.

Defective caste column

A perusal of the rural development ministry’s questionnaire for the “Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011” goes to show that the way the column for caste has been framed will not ensure full and effective netting of correct and complete caste data due to the following reasons.

There are two sub-columns for caste. In the first sub-column, there are four categories/ codes: SC – 1, ST – 2, Others – 3, and No caste – 4. For those who have codes 1,2 and 3 in the first sub-column, the caste name is to be written in the second sub-column.

The category/code 3 with the vague and ambiguous description “Others” is meant to cover the majority of India’s population (covering three-fourths of the all-India population and four-fifths of the number of castes). This will reduce the focus on collecting the caste returns of the entire population and resut in omissions on the part of enumerators in entering the actual caste name in the second sub-column.

The assigning of the first two codes 1& 2 to SC and ST respectively is a carry over from the main census where there was a specific need to net the SC-ST population separately. This is not the right approach or wording in the present exercise for netting all castes in a full caste census.

Category 3 “Others” is followed with equal prominence by Category 4: “No caste”, instead of this being given just as an option to those respondents who wish to return that they have no caste. This will inflate the ‘no caste’ returns and reduce the caste returns to that extent and bring down the caste-wise population data.

No clarity in caste name entry

There is only one sub-column for the actual caste name to be entered. There is no provision for entering the sub-caste name or other amplificatory information about that caste name. A caste name like for example, Nair or Panicker, can be a forward caste or a backward caste. With only this vague and insufficient caste name entry available in the schedule, it will be impossible at the processing stage in the office to correctly identify and tabulate the caste. This will defeat the very objective of the caste census.

Scrap this futile exercise right now

In a regular population census the enumeration is completed simultaneously all over the vast country in a short period of three weeks under close supervision, but the present loose exercise is to extend over six months till December 2011, and the success or failure of the field operation will not be known till then by which time it will be too late to take any remedial action.

Though there has been much publicity of a formal launch of this survey in just one state on 29 June 2011, no tangible progress is expected in the first few months because the field operations in all the bigger states are scheduled only in the last two to three months. The timely supply of adequate number of computer machines to cover the 24 lakh enumeration blocks in the country and the prior feeding-in of the household particulars and the questions to be canvassed in the machines have not even started. Even the feasibility of collecting data through the computer devices on such a massive scale across the country is not tested and proved. The field canvassing is to be entrusted to anganwadi workers and rural employment guarantee labourers. All things considered, the failure of this ill-planned exercise to yield any worthwhile caste data is a foregone conclusion to every knowledgeable person.At the end the central government will unjustifiedly blame the states for the failure. This will serve no purpose. Time would have run out and the funds wasted with no caste data coming up.

The Government of India should,without waiting till that time and without wasting any more time, immediately cancel the wrong decision to tag the caste census with the poverty survey, and honor its earlier cabinet decision to conduct a caste census along with relevant socio-economic questions by the census commissioner of India under the Census Act,1948, in February next as that is the month in which census is always held.

Dr M.Vijayanunni is former Census Commissioner & Registrar General of India and former Chief Secretary of Kerala,Trivandrum. Email: [email protected] Phone: 0471 2340041