Tips for Computer Assisted Reporting

Reporting the Census of India, 2001

The decennial Census of India is the largest single administrative exercise of its kind in the World. Even the preparations for it make news because of the size and impact of the operation. The Census operations as well as the data thrown up by it can be the source of many news stories and features for the journalist. From the last Census, held in 1991, the data collected have been computerised. This time, it is expected to be done in a more systematic way. This discussion, towards its end, will give you some idea of how this data would be structured and what the reporter can look for in them. 

This time, the Census would be enumerating the disabled people in the country. This would be the first time that such authentic figures on disability become available. This could yield stories relating to the number and percentage of disabled in the country, especially in relation to the reservation of jobs available.people

The male to female ratio is one of the items always watched by demographers and journalists. Normally, women should slightly outnumber men. If this is not so in the States and districts, it indicates that the status of women is not good in that region. The sex ratio (number of females per 1000 males) and life expectancy of women in Kerala may be higher than even that of Washington D. C. (USA). Several items of Census data such as the decadinal population growth and literacy rate could be of special interest to journalists as they may point to success or failure of the family planning, literacy and other programmes. As India had regular census from 1881 onwards, comparing the population data with that of the last century would yield interesting insights.

The Census is being conducted in two phases. The first phase consisting of house listing operations is already complete. When compiled, this would draw up information on housing conditions, availability of the basic amenities such as electricity, drinking water, toilet and bath rooms, ownership of houses and possession of vehicles. Much of these are new information which were not collected before.

The second phase covers canvassing of details such as general and socio-cultural characteristics (these include religion, mother tongue, languages known, literacy and educational status), characteristics of workers and non-workers, migration characteristics and fertility particulars.

For the first time, the following information will be canvassed.

Age of marriage
Languages known
Distance traveled to place of work and mode of travel.
Migration after birth
Level of Education and type of institution attended.

Location Code Structure used in the 2001 Census
State/ UT
Two digits (within the country)
Two digits (within the State/UT)
Four digits (within the district)
Eight digits (within the State/ UT)
Eight digits (within the district)
Four digits (within the town)

Data is separately compiled for rural and urban areas. For Census purposes, besides the statutory towns such as municipalities, city corporations and town panchayats, some villages that satisfy a three fold criteria (population, density and male non-agricultural workers) are considered as Census town. The rest area treated as rural.

The data collected in the Census is published by the Census Commissioner of India as Census Series and Tables.  Many of these are now available in the electronic form. The State Directorates publish State-wise data. The data both in print and electronic form can usually be obtained free of charge by media organizations from the Census offices.

Data Structure:

In 1991, the data was made available as several database (.DBF) files. (They can be obtained from the Census Directorates/National Informatics Centre). These used a 16 digit location code (eg. 1400303001010002) for urban data and 18 digit code for rural (eg. 140030003000300005) data at the State level. The first two digits represented the district. For example, the code for Kasaragod district was 01 and that for Thiruvananthapuram was 14. The next four digits represented the taluk/tahsil  in case of urban areas. In case of rural areas, six digits were used to represent the development blocks. The next six digits stood for the town/village panchayat. The last four digits were for representing the wards.

In the 2001 Census, the coding is slightly different from 1991. The State/Union Territory is represented by two digits each in the code. In the State level data, the first two digits denote the district. The next four represent  taluk, tahsil, P. S., development block, circle or mandal as is relevant to each State. The towns as well as the villages are represented separately through Permanent Location Code Numbers consisting of eight digits for villages and four for wards. Beginning with the first village of the first district to the last village in the last district, there is a continuous running number code for each village. The eight digits provided to represent the village will help addition of new villages in future without disturbing the overall scheme.

To see the organisation of data, let us take the example of two files representing the code and data relating to industrial categories of workers and non-workers for urban areas. The first will contain records with the code and the corresponding name of taluk, town and ward. The other file will contain records with the location code along with fields having the actual population data. The starting point in using these files is to set a relationship between the two files using the code. When the codes are matched, we know which data represent which village.

The data can be processed by reporters having some knowledge in using database programs. Some manipulations would require programing skills. This raw data can throw up a lot of information and story leads if you look at it closely. A high incidence a disability in a village may merit a field level investigation. If a high male female ratio is noticed in some villages compared to the neighbouring villages, it could be the place do an investigation about the condition of women, possible prevalence of female infanticide etc. How does the districts/villages compare in literacy, fertility, population growth etc could yield human interest stories.One can even find out which ward in one's city is having the highest number of cars. Which town poses the biggest problem for the office goers in terms of distance to be travailed to reach the office? The story possibilities are numerous.
Update (March 26, 2002): Provisional Results of Census released: Kerala leads in literacy, sex ratio.
Update (April 23, 2003):  Summary of Housing Tables released: Kerala has the largest percentage of households with electricity, latrines. Tamil Nadu leads in 'good' houses.
Update (March 1, 2004): Final Population Totals and Primary Census Abstract, 2001, for Kerala released.
Update (2004): Data on Religion released

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