Telengana survey: questions with few answers

Questionnaires had no answer to one query: what was the ‘intensive household survey’ all about?


Dinesh Akula | August 29, 2014

Filling in the blanks: Within hours of hitting the field, enumerators realised they were too few – and the households too many.
Filling in the blanks: Within hours of hitting the field, enumerators realised they were too few – and the households too many.

Telangana has 91 lakh ‘white ration cards’ – issued to families below poverty line (BPL). It had a small problem, and raised a few antennas: the entire state has 84 lakh households in all.

The sceptics: at a loss

  • Venkat Ramana Murthy, ex-armyman: “Most people appeared to be at a loss about the purpose of the survey, as most details were already known to the government in some form or the other. Besides, when the union government launched the Aadhaar scheme, all those who applied were given a receipt. But no such receipt was given in this case. When asked whether the government would issue some kind of identity card, the enumerators (surveyors) said that no such card would be issued.”
  • Devendra Sinha, businessman: “Why does the government want to know one’s bank account number when they are linked to the permanent account number (PAN) and CIBIL, especially when the government already has that data?”
  • Rajbir Singh, doctor: “The questions under ‘Division B’ regarding religion and caste are surely a cause for embarrassment. What if two generations in a family are married into different castes and the children cannot identify himself/herself with any one caste? Of course, electoral politics in most parts of India hover around religion and caste but what is raising many an eyebrow is the question on whether the government is trying to identify and nurse newer constituencies.”
  • Sahiti Reddy, homemaker: “Column 6 (of the survey form) deals with information on gas connections. Supposing two brothers stay in the same house. They will have to furnish details of their respective families, though under one address, as separate units and can show separate connections. But if the kitchen is the same, the surveyor is asked to treat it as one family unit. This is causing confusion among joint families.”

So when this information reached Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao, chief minister of India’s youngest state, he wasted no time in asking his officials in the CM camp office to figure out a mechanism to root out bogus ration card holders in the state.

By the time KCR, as the CM is popularly called, received the official strategy, he was already armed with a new mechanism to find who is who in his state. An “intensive household survey, he believed, would help weed out fake beneficiaries of government welfare schemes.

It was gigantic in scope and ambition. And it also flagged off fears and furore. Never in the history of India has such a massive survey been carried out in 48 hours, covering 10 districts and an estimated 84 lakh households. The KCR government pegged the cost of survey at '20 crore.

The supporters: right govt initiative

  • Dhananjay Kumar, investment banker: “Statistics hold the key for successful implementation of government welfare schemes and policies. If the numbers are wrong, schemes are bound to fail, they (surveyors) said.”
  • A Saye Sekhar, journalist: “Most apprehensions and misgivings of people were dispelled once the interaction began and the surveyors walked several extra miles while verifying the forms even late in the night. They also called up people to elicit information that was missed out by the field surveyors. Some people treated the surveyors to breakfasts, coffee and tea; some even offered lunches.”
  • Rajnikanth Reddy, budding actor: “Most middle-class families were happy that the government’s initiative could indirectly help them take out all important documents like property deeds, tax receipts, water tax, LPG connection details, PAN cards, Aadhaar cards, bank details and many other relevant papers and secure them all at one place. Numerous social media enthusiasts also acknowledged this.”
  • Govind Murthy, political analyst: “Popular support and cooperation came forth as the surveyors explained that the targets could choose to avoid any question they found inconvenient. Though questions on religion, caste and social status – SC, ST, OBC, etc – were customarily encapsulated as part of the questionnaire, the surveyors told the people that they could choose to skip those questions if they felt. However, those deriving benefits from the government owing to their social grouping furnished all relevant information.”

But as the CM office got busy preparing the blueprint, details of the survey got leaked, and sent shivers among lakhs of Andhra (post-bifurcation Seemandhra regions) people residing in Telangana for decades.

The ‘real intention’ of the government came to fore in the last columns of 21, 22 and 23 in a special box under the header ‘Division 1’, which clearly sought to elicit information on ‘nativity’ of the residents. The special box had a headline specifically mentioning “ details of those who migrated from other states’. The questions were – 21: from which state have you come?, 22: language spoken, and 23: year of migration.

These three questions seemed like an attempt to delineate people of Andhra origin from others on the basis of their nativity. Many, including opposition parties, questioned whether it was an attempt to implement the hidden agenda of the Telangana government.

Telugu Desam parliamentary party leader YS Chowdhury minced no words in attacking KCR and said the new government was frightening people. Ganta Srinivas Rao, AP state HRD minister, called the survey “draconian”.
In an attempt to clear the air, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) termed it as opposition’s propaganda against the state government. Telangana minister and KCR’s son KT Rama Rao made it clear that the only motive of the government is to benefit the people of Telangana through the survey.

Adding to the overall confusion and apprehension meanwhile, a video clip of CM’s PRO Vijay acted as gasoline in fire. The PRO was seen and heard, purportedly spelling out the government’s intention to find the students and workers of Andhra origin and move them out.

To top it, in another video clip, the chief minister himself was seen briefing his joint collectors on the survey in which he was heard asking them to purportedly sideline Andhra workers.

As chaos and fear gripped people in the state, with the general impression that they would be sidelined and ignored unless they participate in the survey, thousands left for their villages while a massive number of Telangana-origin people working in Gujarat, Maharasthra and Chhattisgarh  reached their villages to participate in the survey.

D-day drama
August 19 might have been a Tuesday but one could count the number of persons or vehicles on Hyderabad roads on literally the fingertips. Shops were closed, offices and schools were shut, and business worth crores of rupees was lost as the state capital came to a virtual standstill. The Telangana government believed this financial sacrifice was nothing compared to the benefits the survey would accrue.

Significantly, the survey form did not have any question regarding nativity – it did not have the controversial questions numbered 21, 22 and 23 in Division 1. People were not even asked to show a copy of their birth certificate. It merely sought yes/no answers for a lot of questions – information for most of which is already available with the government.

Ground report: rushing to meet targets

Sweating profusely, Rajesh Karnam, a college graduate, was running from one street to another in Khairatabad area of Hyderabad city on August 19 afternoon after he suddenly realised that the number of families he had to cover was much higher than estimated.

“I am supposed to cover 40 houses. But when I came here, I found that at least five families live in (each) multi-storey apartments – and most of them on rent. That makes it 200 families. I and two associate enumerators (both fellow college students) cannot do this in a single day,” said a harried Rajesh as he darted from one portion of a two-storey house to another.

At Ram Nagar, Prema Malini and her team of three ran out of survey forms and was desperately calling her supervisor at GHMC (the civic body) to rush additional booklets.

“Instead of spending 15-20 minutes at each house, we are spending more than an hour,” said Manisha Rao, a government school teacher. “We started at 7 am and by noon we entered details of only four houses, with 14 families.”

At a four-storey building on RTC Cross Roads, the enumerators simply handed over the survey forms to one resident and asked him to fill up details of everyone residing in that building even as they (surveyors) moved to the next house. Faced with the daunting task of writing the details of over 100 families instead of 40, as they were told initially, enumerators in many areas simply parked themselves in the middle of the street and requested residents to come and give details of their Aadhaar card, ration card, bank account, and so forth.

Confusion prevailed till people saw the real survey sheet, which carried a lot of yes/no questions. One question, for instance, asked, “Do you have property – Yes or No”. If you answered in the affirmative, you were not required to show evidence. If you answered no, your word was taken at face value. The survey required that one gave details of bikes, cars and even number of air-conditioners at home.

If a family had enough money to own a bike, a car or an AC, it would not need a BPL card. That’s a fair calculation but even if you did own and still answered in the negative, there is no way for the government to verify. People in rural areas were asked, among others, details on livestock and agricultural land they possess.

They survey also sought details on pensioners, which, again, was voluntary imparting of information with no requirement for papers or documents. So technically a resident could make false claims and can remain a bogus beneficiary. No one in the government told the people what would happen if they gave false information or chose not to reveal personal data.

The fear of data misuse was genuine, and it was not effectively countered.

The survey form looked simple, and it left many asking the sole purpose for the exercise that shook the entire state.

Maintaining that the survey was a “super-hit”, the chief minister said the government will utilise the data to assess population of the new state and Hyderabad city. “Originally we thought Hyderabad has a population of about 75 lakh but now it appears there are 1.20 crore (people living in the city), KCR said. “I think such an exercise should be replicated all over the country.”

Brushing aside the opposition’s criticism that the survey aimed at singling out people from Andhra Pradesh living in Hyderabad, he said, “Even the AP chief minister has given his details, and I am happy about it.”

Figuring out figures
While the chief minister has said that the survey details would be available online, Greater Hyderabad municipal corporation (GHMC) commissioner Somesh Kumar said it would not be accessible to all, and, hence, there is no scope for misuse. The 2011 census reported 15,24,392 households in areas under GHMC’s jurisdiction in Hyderabad city. In contrast, the August 19 survey covered 20,11,293 households in the same areas. But the increase in numbers does not stop there. “It is now estimated by various circles that 1,49,308 households are left over for the survey,” the civic chief said.

Industry loses crores as IT city turns idle city

  • No exact calculation of losses done but estimated at thousands of crores
  • Manufacturing units across sectors like pharma, steel and ferro alloys, auto components and plastics, etc closed for day; most IT companies kept only mission-critical operations ticking
  • State-run Singareni Collieries left with loss of 28,000 tonnes of coal production as 60,000 employees stayed off duty
  • Bulk drugs industry in Telangana would have lost production of at least '100 crore, going by annual '40,000 crore output of bulk drugs from Hyderabad region, says Aurobindo Pharma vice-chairman and former bulk drug manufacturers association president K Nityananda Reddy
  • Many MNCs expressed dissatisfaction... a certain discomfort about the survey as nobody knows the outcome, says Suresh Rayudu Chitturi, CII’s Andhra Pradesh chairman
  • The shutdown, coming on top of bandhs, shows the government is not very serious about work culture, says FICCI national executive committee member Devendra Surana
  • We are already suffering due to one-day power holiday every week. This shutdown will cost SME sector thousands of crores, says VR Hanumantha Rao, federation of Andhra Pradesh small industries association

By the end of it, 7,557 households refused to participate in the survey while 60,660 houses were found locked.
While the statistical data is expected to be computed once it is all entered by the first week of September, there still are a few loose ends. Several colonies and people were not covered in the survey. At some colonies, the residents were asked to form a queue and furnish all details as the surveyors positioned themselves at one place.
While KCR has said the government will give a second chance to cover those who missed out, the snags were visible even before D-day. Pre-survey visits by different teams on August 17 and 18 indicated that the total number of households in the state capital were far beyond expectations. While the official estimates based on property tax data pegged the total number at 16.96 lakh, the rough estimate put it at 19.31 lakh. Accordingly, the GHMC ordered 20 lakh survey forms.

However, the pre-survey revealed 25 lakh households in GHMC areas, and that the population could be around 1.20 crore.

The number of families across Telangana was estimated at 99,41,000, and, keeping that in mind, 3.70 lakh enumerators were deployed for collecting the information. The number of surveyors, however, fell short of requirement, and they were seen hurrying and scurrying to meet their targets, which were much more than estimated (see box on facing page).

Only families that are already receiving benefits of government schemes – like students’ fees reimbursement, monthly monetary aid for the physically challenged, among others – seemed to give their bank account numbers and other additional details with enthusiasm.

So what will KCR, and his party and government, gain out of this entire exercise? While details of the citizens are already with the government, officials said they will now have near-correct figure. The data will help the government implement its various schemes and reach benefits to the people better. It would also check pilferage, officials said.

For the TRS and the chief minister, the survey would come handy politically as well, as a complete authentic data of voters – and their caste base – would be in hand. KCR then can – as he most certainly will – strategise his political plan based on the caste equations across 10 districts of the state.

KCR’s remarks to media persons – “We would know what a person is all about from the parameters incorporated in the questionnaire, though you may not be able to make out what it is” – has, however, left everyone guessing.



The story appeared in the September 1 to 15, 2014 issue of the magazine.



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