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It’s time for a census, no matter what

「人口普查數據對於許多目的至關重要,包括實施福利計劃。 舉例來說,如果有更新的人口普查數據來修改《國家糧食安全法》的覆蓋範圍,受益於口糧補貼的人數將增加一億以上

“Census data are crucial for many purposes, including the implementation of welfare programmes. For example, if the latest census data were available to amend the coverage of the National Food Security Act, the number of people benefiting from ration subsidies would increase by more than 100 million .Photo credit: The Hindu

Why is there 2021 Census postponed so long? Here’s a plausible answer: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is delaying the census because it wants to speed up the “delimitation” process ahead of the 2029 Lok Sabha elections.

If this sounds ridiculous, think again. The 84th Amendment to the Constitution clearly stipulates that the next step in delimitation work will be based on the first census After 2026. If the next census takes place in 2024 or 2025, then demarcation will have to wait until after the next census, sometime in the 2030s. Therefore, if the BJP wants to conduct delimitation before the 2029 elections, it must continue to delay the census until 2026 or even 2027 (as the 2026 census may not qualify as taking place “after 2026”).

Delimitation refers to the periodic attempt to ensure that states have seats in the Lok Sabha in proportion to their respective populations and, as far as possible, to ensure that all constituencies have the same population size, as required by Article 81 of the Constitution. It is known that the upcoming delimitation exercise may change the balance of seats in the Lok Sabha in favor of countries whose populations have grown relatively rapidly since the last delimitation between countries in 1973 (according to the 1971 census). This means in particular that the seat share of the northern states will grow at the expense of those in the southern states. Naturally, this is a can of worms. Some southern states might rebel. However, if the BJP can escape this predicament, its electoral prospects will improve as its base is much stronger in the north than in the south.

The opposition can thwart this plot by insisting that the census be completed in time for 2026. Census data are vital for many purposes, including the implementation of welfare programs. For example, if the latest census data were available to amend the coverage of the National Food Security Act, the number of people benefiting from ration subsidies would increase by more than 100 million. Postponing the census deprives many people of basic rights. By insisting on an early census and delayed delimitation, the opposition feeds two birds with one crumb. The issue could also be brought before the Supreme Court: fixing the date of the census is the prerogative of the central government under the law, but delaying the 2021 census for more than five years could be considered an abuse of privilege and a violation of the fundamental rights of the people.

However, there’s a problem, or so it seems. This catch has to do with female retention. The 106th Amendment to the Constitution passed in September last year stipulates that one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies are reserved for women. According to Article 5, this will take effect “after the demarcation exercise has been carried out” for this purpose After the relevant data of the first census conducted after (2023) are released” (emphasis added). So far, this has been interpreted to mean that women’s reservation will begin after the larger demarcation exercise required by the 84th Amendment. In this case, conducting the census early would delay reservation for women by delaying delimitation. However, the words “for this purpose” in Section 5 can also be read to mean that women’s reservation can be preceded by a larger constituency on the basis of its own delimitation exercise (which only involves the designation of “women only” constituencies). conduct. Therefore, there is nothing to stop the opposition from advocating for (1) census at the earliest, (2) reservation for women under the 106th Amendment from then on, and (3) later (sometime in the 2030s) Delimitation in accordance with the 84th Amendment.

How much is the BJP likely to gain from delimitation? It appears to have a lot to gain before June 4, 2024, as it has overwhelming support in the northern states and little support in the southern states. Today, the situation has changed, with the BJP losing ground in the north but making some gains in the south. Still, the BJP still has a strong stake in the delimitation issue. To understand this, consider the following exercise. If seats are shared by political parties within Even if 543 Lok Sabha seats are redistributed, states will remain unchanged pass through Ratio of states to their current population, how will this impact the overall seat share of the NDA and the Indian Union today? The answer is that the NDA’s seat share will rise by about 3 percentage points, from 54% (294 of 543 seats) to 57%, while India’s seat share will fall by about 2 percentage points. In absolute terms, this means the NDA will have about 309 seats instead of 294 – an additional 15 seats. this is a big problem. The flip side of the coin, however, is that delimitation may lead to a backlash against the BJP in the south. The BJP may or may not decide to cross that broken bridge before 2029.

The fact remains that postponing the census is difficult to justify. Besides hampering reservation for women, it also deprives millions of people of their basic rights. They should not be held hostage to any political party’s electoral strategy.

Jean Drèze is a visiting professor at the Department of Economics at Ranchi University.

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