As Bihar readies for caste survey, statisticians worry about data

There are 17 columns in the form for the phase, with 214 caste names to pick from; physical forms to be matched with app forms through unique barcodes

March 27, 2023 10:44 pm | Updated March 28, 2023 11:41 am IST - New Delhi

File photo of enumerator staff receiving information from residents during the first phase of caste-based census in Bihar state, in Patna.

File photo of enumerator staff receiving information from residents during the first phase of caste-based census in Bihar state, in Patna. | Photo Credit: PTI

With the second phase of Bihar’s caste-based survey set to begin from April 15, training of field enumerators is on in full-swing.

The mobile app to be used in the second phase – Bijaga (Bihar Jaati Adharit Ganana) – is ready, with 17 columns and a list of 214 caste names, and senior district officials in each district have been briefed on the form. Statisticians are, however, worried about securing the integrity of the data they are supposed to collect, after being directed not to insist on any kind of verification documents.

Both the physical form for this part of the survey and the form on the mobile app have the same columns that provide for collecting personal details of residents, including caste name and religion along with a slew of socio-economic indicators.

Also Read |The Bihar government’s caste-count 

Double verification

While the Bihar government has touted the exercise as a first to be done on a mobile app, enumerators and district officials have been directed that the information needs to be collected on both the mobile app and the physical forms.

“The physical forms will have a unique barcode and form number each corresponding to each resident’s information on the app. We will also use the physical forms as a confirmatory step. Enumerators will have to upload a scanned copy of the form for each resident so information can be cross-checked,” a district official said.

Bihar’s General Administration Department (GAD) has decided to use a dropdown box for the listed caste names where the 214 caste names will be listed for enumerators to choose from.

Among these, 203 are Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and upper castes among Hindus and Muslims. Within this is also a separate code for transgender persons to check. In addition to this, 11 new castes have been added to the dropdown box based on independent reports from various districts.

These castes include Golwara, Bangali Kayasth, Darji, Khatri, Dharaami, Sutihar, Navesood, Bhumij, Bahelia, Rastogi, and Kevani. A State government official said that the population and socio-economic conditions of these caste groups will be seen and some of them may be added to reservation lists if the results show the need for it.

Moreover, there is a 215th caste code for “Other Caste”, which officials said will be assigned to any caste that does not already fall under the 214 listed ones.

Information collected

Among personal information being collected is each resident’s name, father’s/husband’s name, marital status, age, gender, caste name, religion, and relation to the head of the family. The socio-economic indicators include educational qualification, nature/status of employment, vehicle ownership, land (agricultural and residential) ownership, computer and laptop usage, housing status, temporary migration status, and monthly income (from all sources).

During the training for the second phase, held in the third week of March in Patna, the State government directed district officials not to insist on any kind of verification documents from residents, district officials from multiple areas in the State said. Statisticians have said that this might lead to problems.

“We have been asked to take residents at their word and get them to sign a declaration that they are giving the correct information. Ultimately, the exercise will only be a success if we can ensure integrity of data collected and are able to publish it accurately,” a senior statistician, part of the exercise in Central Bihar, said.

While the form for the second phase of the survey has columns to collect information on ration card number, Aadhaar number and the caste certificate number of the head of the family, none of this information is to be mandatorily collected. “That is why these three columns have not been included in the 17 columns of the form,” a district official said.

Officials in the General Administration Department did not respond to queries about how the integrity of the data provided by residents will be checked. Officials, however, have said that enumerators on the ground will be accompanied by local Anganwadi workers and social workers, who will likely be able to confirm the residents’ basic information like caste location.

But statisticians told The Hindu that some residents might want to misrepresent other information being collected through the survey – like land ownership details or income.

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