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Friday, April 2, 2010

Counting Habits

Couple of days back our president flagged off the 15th census, which being promptly touted as one massive and could be world's one of the biggest activities spanning across some 12000 odd cities and 8 lakh villages. Kudos to all those workers, volunteers, NGOs and babus who would be involved in the counting process of our population for next 45 days.

I do have a mixed feeling on this. Mixed because I never was strong in mathematics and my love-hate relationship with counting in general. Many would argue, what is their to count on the population. What could be the benefit out of this exercise? How does it make a difference if suddenly we find after 45 days that we have added close to a 0.2 billion to the already existing 1 billion and start patting our backs for our extremely fertile quality. The Sarkar should get inputs from all those suggestive Indians to introduce some exiting variants to this process which some believe would yield better results.

Why we are so fund of counting? It seems at all the time of the year we keep on counting one thing or the other. Few delivering benefits and majority going as junk on the records of Statistical Institute. Is it only the statistics that we are interested in, that forced us to make our country a huge calculator at the end of the day? Starting from living and dangerous entities like Tigers to the semi nude tribes of Andaman & Nicobar, who some say are carnivals to non living entities like number of temples, vintage cars and even the world war-II period inner wears, we are capable of counting down everything. No wonder I am asking my wife to keep all my worn out inner wears safe, as who knows after 50 years one of them might feature in one of those records of inner wears of the early period of the millennium. My grandchildren would proudly be announcing of this rare collection, which the government eventually showed their interest in.
This census has a long history, as old as being mentioned in Kautalya's book on governance, the Arthashastra. He being a ruthless manager preferred this exercise only to facilitate the correct taxation depending on the Population Vs Agricultural ratio. Some say the first modern day census started somewhere around mid 1800, when guys like Mangal Pandey and team were busy fighting the Britishers in the famous Sipahi Mutiny. The exercise then was done in patches. This old legacy of mass counting was promptly taken forward by our founder members of the constitution. We do have one act or the other for almost everything, so the Census act 1945 was no exception.

Keeping aside our founding fathers and the 1945 act, is it worth spending close to 3500 crores? Well some say yes as long as the idea mentioned by Chanakya in his book is not been hijacked. If it really yielding positive results then why not do it in every 5 years? I doubt anybody would object to this as long as we are doubly benefited instead of once in 10 years. This year the authorities have added few more non-living entities to be counted. For example, no of computers, existence of Internet connection in the households, no of cell phones, how many do Tweeting, how many are in Orkut or Facebook etc. Oops, sorry Twitter and Orkut are out of bounds this time but the guys up have promised to put them in next time around.

It is said that the whole data would give us a better picture of our standard of living, our educational competency and all other sundry stuff that deals with our society at large. Guess what? If after 45 days we find out we are seriously lacking in all these aspects, then what we are going to do? Are we going to do anything to improve it? Well we would pretend to do something after showing the world how upset about these data and term it as matter of concern and forget it the next week and get on with our work.

I might sound a rustic critic, but honestly I haven't seen anyone working based on the data that we arrive at from all these censuses. I don't remember previous censuses except the last one where the latest concern was the number of child mortality and the ever degrading Male:Female ratio. The concern was pretended and shown to the whole world. But have we improved on that? Nope, we are still as bad, if not worse as we were 10 years back on these factors. If this is what we are going to end up with then why to waste 3500 crore of Tax payers money on it. Lets actually invest all those truck loads of money on real development of infrastructure, basic facilities and education. This is what would make all those poor chaps more happy than being just counted and shown some not so useful pretension of concern. Don't believe? Ask the guy who stays in a slum.

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