Nepal’s first federalism-era census, slated for mid-2021, promises to usher in a new age of data analytics for national development through its revamped methods, techniques and approach.
Under the slogan ‘My Census, My Participation’, the National Population and Household Census 2021 will provide the blueprint for the work in the coming decade for all three tiers of government.
The government hopes that the new census data will ease the transition into the federal system a much more accurate data base that will go beyond just a headcount but also show if and how citizens are enjoying their fundamental rights, privileges and facilities guaranteed to them by law and the constitution.
Resource allocation by these three tiers of government will be dependent on data from the census, and how it is interpreted.
Even by early next year, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis will still be present when enumerators fan out across the country for the once-a-decade exercise. Planners from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and National Planning Commission (NPC) have said that they will be using state of the art information technology for the census. Plans for a ‘virtual census’ have been set in case the pandemic continues to be a threat into next year.
At present the census is set for 9 May to 22 June 2021, and will be divided into two phases. The preliminary phase from 9 to 28 May will consist of supervisors filling listing forms for numbers of family members per household. The second phase, from 8-22 June, will see the central questionnaires for demographic and financial data being used.
The census will replace outdated pre-federalism data which are not in line with the new government structure. Local governments and agencies have been designated based on the 2011 data, which are mostly outdated and inaccurate. Nepal’s population will have expanded from 26.6 million in that census to more than 30 million by next year.
Pre-federalism Nepal was divided into five development zones and 265 constituencies. During the first general elections under the federal constitution in 2017, there were seven provinces and 165 constituencies, the nearly 3,915 VDCs were replaced with 293 urban and 460 rural municipalities.
To better suit the federalism model, ward-level and community-level questionnaires are being used for the first time. This will allow authorities to address issues such as women, child and dalit rights, social security, and residence particular to each community.
With its new community-centric approach, the census will bridge gaps between local, provincial and federal government so that specific plans can be made to address them.
Changes to the questionnaire have been introduced to diversify the data gathered. 25 questionnaires are registered in the first phase of the census while there are 55 in the second. A community set of 100 questionnaires is a newer addition, and data from it is received from ward offices and filled by supervisors themselves.
Families’ access to banks and financial institutions and weight of loans and debt will be incorporated in the new census. Questions regarding occupational training and vocational education within a family are also new additions as the census aims to identify skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manpower present in the community.
New questions to gather data on a family’s means of feeding themselves and household provisions have also been set. Houses built on government grants will be identified in the new census.
A new ‘modified de jure’ method has been introduced to reduce inaccuracies in counting the population. A person could previously be counted from both their site of residence and their site of employment. To avoid redundancies, an individual will now either be counted from the site they are most active in or the site they prefer to be counted from. Those with no fixed residences, such as sadhus or the homeless will be counted on the final day of the census from the places they are located.
While the pilot census of June 2020 was affected by the pandemic and lockdown, planners remain confident of conducting next year’s census on time. Preparatory work has already begun as questionnaire design, census mapping, publicity and communication and training of supervisors are all underway for 50,000 enumerators who have been mobilised across the country in preparation.
Nepal’s census has its origins in wartime. The first four censuses were held in 1911 to 1941, before or during the World Wars, when Nepal’s Rana rulers who had promised soldiers for the British Army needed to know the numbers of young men from specific ethnic groups who could be mobilised.
The country’s first census using non-military and modern methods was conducted in 1951, and has been held every ten years after that. The first computer arrived in Nepal during the 1971 census, a second generation IBM-1401 that used tape drives for storage and punch cards for data entry.
The 1981 census was conducted using a state-of-the-art British-made ICL 2950 with one megabyte of RAM and a 640 MB hard drive in addition to 800 gigabytes of storage drives, which came in four units. That may seem like nothing these days, but it did what it was supposed to do in its day.
2001 Census, Hemlata Rai
2011 Census, Nepali Times