DELAYED for the first time since 2002, the five-yearly livestock census will now happen no later than July, a senior official of the Union Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DAHDF) said.
The main reason that the 20th Livestock Census — a once in five years, nationwide headcount of livestock as well as poultry, dogs and rabbits — could not be undertaken as per schedule in 2017 was, ironically, the Centre’s Digital India initiative. It was to be the first census where field data were to be collected using computer tablets.
“In the previous censuses, the enumerator manually entered the data at the village/urban ward level and submitted it to supervisor in the particular block or taluka. This process of manual entry and first-level verification of the collected information, before its transfer to the district and further scrutiny/validation at the state headquarters, was time-consuming. The tablets were meant to shorten the exercise, by allowing real-time monitoring of data at field level and also faster correction of human errors creeping in during manual entry,” a Maharashtra Animal Husbandry Department official said.
However, while the idea behind using the tablets was sound, problem had arisen in its implementation. The job of procuring the tablets — for an estimated 57,327 enumerators, to cover 27.58 crore households over three months — was at the last minute given to state governments. “Till around March last year, we were told that the Centre would procure the tablets and distribute these to states as per their requirement. The tablets were supposed to arrive by April and we had already drawn up the training schedule for the selected enumerators and supervisors. But for some reason, the plan for central procurement was dropped and states were asked to procure the tablets themselves,” the official added.
“Not every state had systems in place for the procurement. Ideally, the Centre should have handled it, which would have ensured timeliness as well as uniform standards of gadgets,” the official said.
The census, while coordinated by the DAHDF at the Centre, is conducted through state Animal Husbandry Departments. “There is a reference period and all states have to be simultaneously ready,” the official pointed out.
The Union Budget had accounted for the tablets, earmarking Rs 34.20 crore towards the Livestock Census, with an additional Rs 64.20 crore being provided for the coming fiscal. The tablets were estimated to cost around Rs 30 crore at Rs 5,000-plus per piece.
As a result of the delay, the 20th Livestock Census, which was to originally be held from July 16 to October 15, is yet to start. Since 1919, when the census was first conducted, it hasn’t been held on schedule only twice before now — 1971 and 2002.
The findings of the 20th Livestock Census are awaited not the least because these may throw light on the impact of the tightened anti-cattle slaughter laws passed by many BJP-led state governments — and their strict enforcement.
“The software and special app to be used for data collection have already been developed, while the tablet procurement and related issues will be sorted out soon. We should be able to launch the census by July,” the DAHDF official told The Sunday Express.
The July-October period is seen as ideal for conducting livestock enumeration because it is the time when migratory pastoral groups too are found in their places of origin, with ample availability of fodder post rains. Such herdsmen, especially from states such as Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir and Telangana, tend to re-embark on their journey in search of greener pastures after October.
Apart from using computer tablets, there is another first regarding the 20th Livestock Census, which will follow a three-month enumeration. The last census (2012) had a one-month reference period (October) and involved 1.71 lakh enumerators along with 28,474 supervisors. This time, there would be 57,327 enumerators and 11,466 supervisors.
The longer time-frame, use of tablets and the stipulation that the enumeration be carried out only by veterinary practitioners/para-veterinarians/animal husbandry graduates/interns is expected to improve the quality of data generated. Also, for the first time, there will be head count of animals and poultry (fowls) based on breed-wise identification. The existing classification merely distinguishes between exotic/crossbred and indigenous animals.
The 2012 census put the country’s livestock population at 512.06 million, including 190.90 cattle, 108.70 buffaloes, 135.17 goats, 65.07 million sheep, 10.29 million pigs, 0.63 million horses, 0.40 million camels, 0.32 million donkeys, 0.20 million mules and 0.08 million yaks. Besides, it counted 729.21 million poultry birds, 11.67 million dogs and 0.59 million rabbits.