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Monday, 07 February 2011 00:00
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The Census Commissioner has done well to put a deadline of two years to process all Census data, and that’s with the detailed tables tabulated on the basis of the full sample—while the detailed tables were based on a small sample before 2001, the decision to use the full sample caused a delay the last time around, and users had to wait till the second half of the decade to make use of the 2001 Census data. Given the plethora of social schemes, and now the possibility of looking at schemes aimed at particular caste or religious groups, it is vital to get the Census data at the earliest. The government has decided not to canvass caste data as part of the second phase of the Census that begins February 9 (the revision round will take place between March 1 and 5) in order to ensure the data is not contaminated (a caste group may be tempted to understate some data in order to get more benefits). As of now, there are no plans to give a caste-wise break-up of ownership of assets like mobile phones or amenities like toilets, but it will be possible to generate such data as well. Our view is that since data on caste is being collected, we may as well get as many details on various caste groups as possible. It is up to researchers to ensure the data is normalised before comparisons are made—so if the data shows the proportion of SC/STs in modern services is below their share in population, researchers would do well to see what the SC/ST share is among the country’s graduates since, presumably, a graduate degree is the minimum requirement for such jobs.

As always, the Census will offer colour-coded maps to indicate the levels of various amenities across the country, the proportion of graduates, ownership of mobile phones and so on; indeed, the maps can be super-imposed on one another, making it possible for instance to see the impact of education on asset-ownership or sanitation or employment-type for that matter. Presumably the government will keep this in mind while designing various welfare and other schemes.

One big fear, given that Census officials will be canvassing information on each individual in the country, is that individual data could leak into the wrong hands. While there will be the usual stringent checks to prevent this from happening, the Census Commissioner says individual names will not be digitised—so while the data will be available for aggregates, no individual data will ever get generated. India’s Census is the world’s largest such exercise, and at probably the lowest cost as well—let’s ensure we use the data to the fullest extent.

 

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