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Opinion

The new challenge for the 2021 Census – analysis

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In the midst of anger and bitterness over the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Registry (NPR) and a possible National Citizen Registry (NRC), which the government has said has not yet been finalized, Little has been thought about its effects in another growing challenge: the quality of official data. In recent years, official data has suffered credibility problems and undermined confidence in the economy. The Indian statistical system, once the envy of the developing world, has fallen in difficult times.

In 2020 and 2021, the government will deploy the 16th Census (and the 8th after Independence). The census will be carried out in two phases: a list of dwellings and a census of dwellings that will be carried out between April and September of this year, followed by the enumeration of the population in February 2021.

The Census is the key source of primary data at the level of town, city and neighborhood, as it provides micro-level data on demography, housing, assets, education, economic activity, social groups, language and migration, among other variables. It also provides population data to the Delimitation Commission for mandatory ten-year delimitation by constitutional mandate of the parliamentary and assembly constituencies, and serves as a key input for many government policies and public services.

It is a massive and enormously expensive exercise. The cost of the 2021 census is estimated at ~ 8,754 million rupees (and NPR at ~ 3,941 million rupees), with the participation of about 30 lakh of enumerators and field officials (usually government teachers and those appointed by state governments ). At the same time, the NPR, prepared for the first time in 2010 under the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the Rules of Citizenship of 2003 and subsequently updated in 2015, will also be updated along with the list of houses and the Housing Census (except in Assam).

News reports have been transmitted in the sense that data collection exercises such as the National Sample Survey (NSS) are hampered in states such as Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Karnataka reports indicate that people refuse to share personal information with officials visiting homes in connection with government welfare plans, and residents reject ASHA workers on a polio pulse visit, for fear of that somehow some of your information reaches the NRC.

In essence, the fears of a contaminated census come from the NPR breaking one of the cardinal rules in the objective collection of data, the preservation of anonymity. Anonymity must be maintained so that people report the information truthfully, especially the information that can be used against them. Otherwise, people will report the information that is most likely to produce a beneficial outcome, either minimizing risk or maximizing benefits, not what is true.

If respondents determine that it is more likely that revealing certain types of information on the NPR questions their citizenship, they may choose to obfuscate or misinform. Because the NPR and the Census will run simultaneously, and both are under the auspices of the Registrar General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (also the key architect and the CAA promoter), this credible loss of information is likely to extend to the Census. Therefore, if it is considered that the CAA and the NPR are aimed at a particular community, measuring that community, however genuine the intentions may be, through the Census, will simply not work.

Since those born after July 1987 will have to present proof of their parents’ citizenship, and some segments of citizens, especially Muslims, are particularly vulnerable to having their citizenship questioned, there will be considerable incentives for people to report erroneously about age, religion and language. data. But once trust is broken between the person who collects the data and the person who provides it, the bad report could also be extended to other parts of the Census. Worse, there is no objective way to detect this erroneous report, leaving only ad hoc methods to eliminate erroneous reports that can cause more harm than good.

The loss of reliable Census data is an example of an economic principle known as the Goodhart Law, which states that “as soon as a particular instrument or asset is publicly defined as money to impose monetary control, it will cease to be used as money. and replaced by substitutes that will allow the evasion of that control. ” In other words, when the measure becomes an objective, it ceases to be a good measure.In more general terms, the measures that are objective describe and prescribe simultaneously, combining the “what” with the “duty”.

Census data is, by definition, a means to serve government objectives. It is unlikely that data protection and integrity guarantees alleviate fears that the data collected will not be used for citizenship purposes. Full censuses have been stopped in countries such as Lebanon, Nigeria and Pakistan for fear that the results favor certain groups, and have led to the withdrawal of the issue of citizenship in the US Census. UU. 2020

Unfortunately, the negative repercussions go beyond the census. For example, good quality personal information is critical for many public health programs. Incomplete data can have serious adverse effects on monitoring and evaluation and, therefore, on program results. In fact, surveys, in general, will be adversely affected since once distrust takes hold, it becomes a generalized condition.

The pact between a State and its citizens is based on a trust base, one that is based on a minimum presumption that people are citizens of that State, to begin with. The erosion of that trust will undermine the ability of the Indian State to gather credible data. And a State that cannot collect objective data about its population will also be unable to frame effective policies for its people.

Devesh Kapur is Professor of South Asian Studies at the Starr Foundation and Director of Asian Programs at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Neelanjan Sircar is an assistant professor at Ashoka University and a visiting member of the Policy Research Center

The opinions expressed are personal.

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