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Mother of all Surveys: Why and for whom?

Mother of all Surveys: Why and for whom?
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Intensive Household Survey, Mother of all Surveys: Why and for Whom. It may not be possible to complete the survey of all 84 lakh households on August...

It may not be possible to complete the survey of all 84 lakh households on August 19. People, especially beneficiaries of government schemes, are worried about government intentions. They may not part with sensitive information on bank and post office accounts etc. At the end, if this survey gets mixed results with half-baked information, it is as good as not having information and the government will lose its face and good will

The proposed Samagra Kutumba Survey on 19th August by the Telangana Government is a very ambitious and challenging task. However, I have my serious reservations about the questionnaire design, number of questions and the intentions of such a massive and huge survey of 84 lakh households in 8 hours on a single day, and also about the integrity and competency of enumerators.

The proposed survey defies all social science research methodology basic principles. I am sure the intentions of the government may be noble and ideal, but they are certainly utopian. If the real intention of this survey is to assist in planning and budgeting, this is not the way to do it. There are two issue involved in this exercise: one is methodology and outcome (intention) of the survey.

First let us look at the methodological issues. For a survey of this nature and scale, a pilot survey would be conducted in typical environments – urban, semi-urban and rural habitations. This pilot will give many insights into the survey like attitude of respondents, enumerators, responses to questions in the section C on details of family and details of post office accounts and bank accounts and also in Section F about house details etc.

According to experts, each household survey will take a minimum of an hour. It is not a mechanical tick survey but this should be an interactive and iterative survey. Each enumerator will be able to do no more than five if not more in a day. So, the design and data collection methods are not sound, if not faulty. For this kind of survey, enumerators will have to be trained for at least two days with practical exercises.

Now, about the outcome! In any kind of this survey, first outputs are fixed and then questionnaire is designed. The intention and purpose of the survey need to be explained to the respondents otherwise respondents’ perception will distort the survey. The government announcement that all should be at home on the day has created a negative impression about the survey. More worried are the real beneficiaries. In this kind of fearful environment, how would a survey of this nature give a real picture and get accurate data?

But what is the alternative? Use existing governmental data and information to pluck out the bogus cards. Village sarpanch and VRO know each and every individual in the village and they can weed out 80% of bogus beneficiaries and a notice should be served to the beneficiaries to prove their credentials with proper documentation and proof by a certain date, failing which they could be declared as bogus beneficiaries. Then for unresolved cases, further investigation could be done in the form of a survey.

Another danger is that this could also turn as a collection survey, where a respondent might be tempted to offer some money not to report details of household information. If one is not a beneficiary of any government subsidy, he/she may refuse to part their private information like post office accounts, bank accounts and vehicle details etc. The government has no right to ask this information from an individual. Asking data about sensitive information from an individual is against the law.

The bureaucrats and designers’ of this survey should have thought about all these issues. It should not become another Aadhaar card fiasco. A carefully worked out media campaign would have created a positive attitude. One very good thing about this survey is to collect caste census and hope the government will publish this information and use it for planning purposes. In this country, the last census on castes was done in 1931 during the British Raj!

When and who will survey the employees who are undertaking this exercise on 19 August? At the end, if this survey gets mixed results with half-baked information, it is as good as not having information and the government will lose its face and good will. All these years we have blamed Andhras for everything, whom will we blame now?

(The writer is a former Head of British Council, Hyderabad)

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