Census taking a toll of enumerators

It is a searing thought, no doubt. However, the noble thought hinges on the underpinning of ‘motivation’ and that is a problem which the current census exercise across India has done little to address.
Ask any census enumerator among the 21 lakh-odd deployed in the house listing and census operations across India about his/her motivation to do this ‘noble national duty’ and the chances are he or she will blurt out a litany of complaints or problems.
It does not require a national survey to gauge the percentage of motivated enumerators who are required to carry out the onerous task of visiting households and recording data in some six lakh villages and over 7,700 towns across the country.

No volunteers
If any proof of their motivation, or lack of it is required, one may consider the beeline at the district and state secretariats since the onset of census operations from April for getting the census duty scrapped. Shirkers certainly outnumber the volunteers.
The crux of the issue lies in the fact that census duty is assigned and is seldom the result of a government employee’s voluntary wish. The government employee is given no choice while being roped in for this work. The Census Act, 1948, provides the statutory backing to empower census directors in states to ask local authorities to make available staff for carrying out the demographic exercise. The provision for penal action against anybody refusing or neglecting to perform the census duty is routinely quoted to get the reluctant government employees fall in line.

Census operation has been kick started in the midst of heat and dust of Indian summer. Temperatures often hover above 40 degree celsius in many states during April, May and June. Enumerators have to trudge great distances, especially in villages, in searing heat to cover households. A comprehensive house listing form spread over 35 columns and National Population Register (NPR) form containing personal details of family members are required to be filled up by the enumerators. This may take anywhere between 15 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the family in a household.

The complexity of the forms often stumps the enumerators. For example, consider the situation of a husband and three wives living in same household, here the number of married couples to be enumerated are three. However, if a household has one wife and three husbands, only one couple would be recorded as residing in that household. The census directorate’s FAQ section for enumerators describes that nuclei can be formed by one wife in this case. The live-in couples are to be considered as couples if they say so. In the house listing form, there is provision for listing of two-wheelers and car but three wheelers and four wheelers like tractors, tempo and auto rickshaw are not to be considered as vehicle ownership. Then, the enumerators have to record the material used in floors, ceilings and walls of buildings, availability and types of latrines and kitchens, drinking water, power, etc.

Often enumerators encounter hostile hosts who refuse to cooperate with them despite persuasion. Even among the educated, awareness levels about census and its benefits are low and enumerators are often shooed away as ubiquitous door-to-door salesmen. Women enumerators are not provided any security as they have to visit households in late evenings because that is the time when office goers in urban areas are likely to be home. It is not uncommon to see husbands or male relatives of the women enumerators having to accompany them when they visit households.

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