Census a must for women’s reservation Bill to become reality

The Women’s Reservation bill can come into effect only after the decennial Census has been conducted, a procedure that the Centre has continually delayed

September 19, 2023 10:09 pm | Updated September 20, 2023 06:50 am IST - NEW DELHI

Woman carrying a child walks in front of a ‘population clock’ showing India’s population, on World Population Day in Mumbai. File.

Woman carrying a child walks in front of a ‘population clock’ showing India’s population, on World Population Day in Mumbai. File. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

At the heart of the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill is the decennial Census exercise that has been indefinitely delayed since 2021.

The 128th Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2023, or the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, will be implemented after the 2026 delimitation taking into account the latest census. Delimitation means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country to represent changes in population.

The last Census was held in 2011. The Centre initially attributed the COVID-19 pandemic for postponing the exercise, the last two notifications by the Registrar General of India (RGI) have not specified any reason for the delay.

Also read: Explained | The delay in the decennial Census 

As reported by The Hindu, on June 30, an order by the Additional RGI said that the competent authority has decided to further extend the date of freezing of administrative boundaries up to December 31, ruling out the exercise before the 2024 general elections scheduled in the months of April and May the same year.

The deadline to freeze the administrative boundaries of districts, tehsils, sub-districts, revenue villages, municipalities, police stations and towns among others has been extended eight times since 2020, the year when the first phase of the Census was conducted.

The intervals of extending the deadline have increased from initial three-months to six months.

Before Census is held, there is a freeze on changing the administrative boundaries and it takes at least three-months to prepare enumerators, who are government officials, for the exercise.

Since this is going to be the first digital Census, the summary of data is expected to be faster.

“We have made all the preparation, all our systems are ready, it is a political decision,” a Home Ministry official said when asked why the Census was being delayed.

Last month, a senior Cabinet minister on being asked about the exercise, said, “We will announce and notify when it is done, nothing will be done in secrecy.”

Through delimitation, the government may be envisaging an increase in number of Lok Sabha seats.

The national delimitation exercise has, however, raised concerns about the unequal representation of States in the Lok Sabha.

Southern States point out that the delimitation of Lok Sabha seats along with a smaller share of Central funds to States on the basis of the population can be unfair as these States which have implemented family planning programmes more effectively than the States in North India.

The State assemblies also need to effect separate legislation before the women’s Bill becomes a reality.

According to K. Narayanan Unni, former Deputy RGI the data being used for various government schemes is outdated.

“There was a report that 10 crore people have been excluded from Food Security Act because outdated data of 2011 Census is being used to calculate the beneficiaries. The surveys like NSS or NFHS, being sample surveys, can not give very reliable estimates for lower geographic levels and one has to depend on census. For example, there may be villages even now with low female literacy. Only a census can identify them to formulate programs.,” Mr. Unni said while highlighting the impact of the delay on governance.

He added that the Reservation Bill talks about three consecutive elections. “But as the Constitution stands today, it may create some difficulty in implementation of the provisions. The constitutional provision is to have delimitation after every Census, except that it has been withheld till 2026. So, if delimitation takes place in between the three elections, identifying the constituencies for reservation can pose problems,” he added.

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