Saturday, April 17, 2010

Census to skip Naxal-ruled villages

Amitabh Sinha Posted online: Sunday , Apr 18, 2010 at 0333 hrs

New Delhi : There will be no census exercise in several hundred villages in Chhattisgarh which have been rendered out of bounds for government officials by Naxalite groups.

District administrations of Jagdalpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Kanker, all part of undivided Bastar which was once one of the largest districts in the country, have informed senior officials in Raipur that it will be difficult for them to carry out the census exercise — counting of people, collection of biometric data for preparation of the National Population Register — in many areas in view of the Naxal threat.

“We have requested that 108 villages in Dantewada be exempted from census because our officials are being prevented by Naxalites from reaching these areas. Our request has been accepted,” Reena Kangale, District Magistrate of Dantewada told The Sunday Express.

Kangale said local officials had identified 255 villages which posed a challenge to enumerators because of the inaccessible terrain and presence of Naxalites. In 147 of these, however, the enumerators were able to complete the numbering of houses, an exercise that precedes the actual counting of people.

“We are assuming that since the officials were allowed to number the houses, they would be able to carry out the census as well. But in 108 villages, even house numbering has not been possible,” she said.

Significantly, these 108 villages do not include the area near the Chintalnar forest where Naxalites had killed 76 securitymen earlier this month. Those areas were not counted amongst the worst affected in the district before that incident and were within reach of government officials.

Kangale’s counterparts in the other districts have not asked for exemption for the troubled areas but only identified the number of villages where there were “practical difficulties” in completing the census exercise.

The district administration of Kanker has listed 300 such villages while Jagdalpur has identified 194. Similarly, 117 villages in Bijapur and 22 villages in Narayanpur fall in the same category.

“There will be full effort to reach to every village and every person. But there is no denying the fact that there are some problem areas. The administration in Raipur has been informed while we continue efforts to complete the census in a comprehensive manner,” said R Prasanna, District Magistrate of Bijapur.

Lying in heavily forested areas, these villages do not have very large populations. The 22 villages in Narayanpur, for example, had only 1,723 people according to the 2001 census. So, leaving out these villages is unlikely to distort the census figures in a significant manner.

But what is important in this year’s census is the simultaneous compilation of the National Population Register, or NPR. Unlike the census data, which only contains a count of the people and some aggregate characteristics of broad groupings within the population, the NPR will identify every person individually and also store biometric information like photographs, fingerprints and iris scan. The NPR data will be later fed into the scheme for allotting a unique identification number to every individual in the country.

The NPR and UID number are aimed at better targeting of government services — like the public distribution system or the rural employment guarantee scheme — to the people, especially those belonging to the socially and economically weaker sections.

“Local officials have been told to spread awareness about the benefits of census and make people interested in participating in it,” said Renu Pillai, Director Census, Chhattisgarh.

The local administrations are also looking at alternative ways of carrying out the census exercise. “If some villages are indeed inaccessible, we are examining whether it would be feasible for us to count and identify people from these villages when they come to nearby markets or government fair price shops,” said Lakhan Singh Ken, District Magistrate of Narayanpur.

In Delhi, Registrar General and Census Commissioner C Chandramouli said such challenges were nothing new to this exercise.

“In a country so vast and such diverse as India, carrying out a census is a job laced with difficulties. This time it is the Naxal-affected areas. There have been other areas earlier where census could not be done in a comprehensive manner,” he said, citing the case of Assam that was left out in 1981 and Jammu and Kashmir where census could not be held in 1991.

Chandramouli said as of now he was not aware of any areas in Chhattisgarh that were being left out of the census exercise. “May be the district administrations have expressed their apprehensions about certain areas but the mandate is to include everyone in this. Only on completion of the exercise next year will we come to know which areas could not be counted.”

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