Public’s reluctance to share details could impact census outcomeExperts say a lack of campaigns to make people aware of the importance of the decennial campaign could have made many wary of enumerators.
Rojita Karmacharya for the past few days has been visiting households in her locality. Her routine entails making rounds of at least 25 households. She asks various questions, as many as 37, to each household and maintains the record that she has to submit to the supervisor.
Karmacharya from Suryabinayak Municipality-3, Bhaktapur is one of the 39,000 enumerators hired by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
“I am proud to be part of this national census as I know this household count will be quite helpful for the state to prepare its policies,” said Karmacharya.
But she has one concern.
“Sometimes I feel there is a lack of awareness among the general public about the census,” she said. “Many people often complain why I am visiting their houses. Others say why should they share their personal information with me.”
Anita BC of Kupondole shared similar problems.
“Sometimes people don’t let me in their houses citing Covid-19 risk,” said BC. “It’s hard to convince them to talk to me and share their details.”
Unlike Karmacharya, BC worked as an enumerator during the last census in 2011 as well.
“Compared to the last time, people seem to be more reluctant to share details. I don’t know why,” said BC.
In the lead-up to the census, the first phase of which was conducted from May 9 to May 28, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the agency assigned to carry out the gargantuan task of collecting details of every household in the country, had said that they were hopeful that the census this year would be more reliable.
The bureau has hired a workforce of 52,000 people—39,000 enumerators, 8,000 supervisors, and 5,000 officials. It has set up offices in all seven provinces.
But what the enumerators say makes it look like the bureau failed to run awareness campaigns targeting the general public. One of the key campaigns the bureau has been running for the past seven days is a caller tune on mobile phones that urges the public to participate in the census.
But not many people seem to have paid attention to the message.
This is the 12th national census Nepal is conducting and first since the country became a federal republic.
A national census is important because it provides comprehensive data on the country’s population, economy, and society as a whole, which is crucial for devising policies to ensure political representation of various groups in the state organs, as well as for making development plans for the country for a decade.
That’s why, experts say, there is a need to take people into confidence and make them aware of the need to respond to every question the enumerators ask and share every personal and household detail.
Sujata Phuyal, one of the supervisors from Suryabinayak, said many of the enumerators who work under her have complained about people not being cooperative.
“The main problem is that some house owners have a tendency to reduce the number of people living in their homes as tenants. This may be due to the fear that they have to pay more tax,” said Phuyal. “Some enumerators have also faced harassment.”
According to Phuyal, some of those in Kathmandu Valley who live in rented rooms and apartments often tell enumerators that their details should be collected from their home villages and towns.
“Some households don’t respond to our enumerators or tell them that they don't want to speak,” said Phuyal.
Experts say the reluctance among the general public to share their details could be because of lack of education and awareness on the importance of the census. There are also chances that enumerators were not trained well, according to them.
Nonetheless, failure to collect exact details could have a profound impact on the output.
Rudra Suwal, former deputy director general at the bureau, said there could be two reasons why people are not keen on sharing details.
“In the last census, local teachers were used as enumerators and they had more persuasive power, people knew them and trusted them,” said Suwal. “But this time there are fresh people. Maybe these enumerators are not as persuasive even though they were trained for a few days.”
Suwal wonders if there’s politicisation as well.
“I have heard that some political leaders are manipulating certain communities regarding their language and religion via social media, so people might have been confused and they have been reluctant to give details,” he said.
While Covid-19 concerns could be one reason people are unwelcoming to enumerators, some suspect the fear of their personal data getting leaked could also be a reason. And the bureau should have run massive campaigns to make people aware of the fact that their details would be kept confidential.
Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, an economist and former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commision, said the Covid-19 pandemic may have affected some awareness campaigns. For the census, what, however, is most important is winning people’s confidence, according to Pokharel.
“Failure to collect actual data could badly affect our policy formulations,” said Pokharel. “I am afraid there are chances of getting superficial data as fresh recruits have been mobilised for collecting details this time.”
The census is a regular decennial programme, but every time, the government and authorities concerned must lay stress on making people aware of the significance of the census.
“Some real policy interventions are required when it comes to women, Dalits, people from the marginalised communities and people with disabilities,” said Pokharel. “And if we fail to collect the actual data, the entire policy formulation could be affected. I have also felt that the government has failed to do enough to educate people on the significance of the census and why sharing their details ultimately benefits them.”
Officials at the Central Bureau of Statistics, however, say they have done enough campaigning and left no stone unturned to sensitise people about the census and make this decennial household count a mega success.
Hem Raj Regmi, deputy director at the bureau, said the enumerators are well trained and people are well aware of the importance of the census.
“We have also received some complaints about the lack of cooperation, but I don’t think there are many cases in which households are reluctant to cooperate with the enumerators,” Regmi told the Post.
As far as awareness campaigns are concerned, according to Regmi, the bureau has mobilised staff in huge numbers–supervisors, enumerators and representatives from wards and municipalities.
“Our goal is to collect the actual data to the extent possible,” said Regmi.
“We have been running awareness campaigns via print, broadcast and online mediums. The caller tune that you hear every time you make a call is also one of the best ways to make people aware of the importance of the census.”
Regmi also tried to assuage the people’s concerns that their data could be used for tax purposes.
“The Statistics Act does not allow us to share individual household data to be used for any other purpose than the census,” said Regmi.