4.9.1 For the planning and implementation of land reforms, comprehensive information relating to the characteristics of different size classes of holdings is essential. This is also necessary to identify and formulate policies and programmes for the welfare of small and marginal farmers especially, the rural poor and economically weaker sections. The information is required by operational holdings as distinct from ownership holdings. An operational holding is defined as “all land, which is used wholly or partly for agricultural production and is operated as one technical unit by one person alone or with others without regard to title, legal form, size or location”. Thus, the Agricultural Census of operational holdings assumes importance as a source of basic data required for several uses.
4.9.2 Agricultural Censuses in the country are conducted at intervals of five years, as a part of the World Census of Agriculture (WCA). The census provides detailed statistics on the structure of operational holdings and their main characteristics like number and area, land use, irrigation, tenancy and cropping pattern. The first Agricultural Census was conducted with reference year 1970-71 and the sixth with reference year 1995-96 is nearing completion.
4.9.3 The census is carried out in three phases. During Phase I, a list is made of all the operational holdings and their primary characteristics like location, area, gender and social group of the holder. During Phase II, detailed data on tenure, tenancy, land use, irrigation, crop areas, etc. are collected. Phase III, popularly known as input survey, relates to collection of data on agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, etc.) according to five size groups of the holdings.
4.9.4 The census follows the method of re-tabulation of data from village land records in the temporarily settled States (accounting for 83 per cent of the total area). In the rest of the country, the census is taken through a household enquiry in a 20 per cent sample of villages. Even in the temporarily settled States, the data collected during Phase II is confined to a 20 per cent sample of the villages. The input survey (Phase III) is a household survey in a 7 per cent sample of villages selected from the 20 per cent villages (Phase II) in respect of both the temporarily and permanently settled States.
4.9.5 One of the principal shortcomings of the Agricultural Census is the delay in the availability of final results. The reference period of the census is an agricultural year (July-June) and normally the census results should be available within two years from the end of the reference period. In practice, however, the time lag is as long as 4-6 years (see Annexe 4.8). For example, the results of the current census with reference year 1995-96 are expected to be available only in 2001. The main reason for this delay is the pre-occupation of the patwari agency, which is designated for this complex and time-consuming work. Census operations also suffer from lack of adequate administrative and technical supervision over the work of the primary agency.
4.9.6 The census is based on re-tabulation of land records data in a large part of the country and its reliability rests on how accurate and up-to-date are the records. It is well known that the village records are deficient in several respects.
4.9.7 The census does not cover information on farm population and its composition, which is a major attribute of operational holdings. Likewise, it does not also provide details of livestock held by the holders.
Conclusions and Recommendations
4.9.8 The Agricultural Census is a major operation and the procedures prescribed for collecting the data are quite comprehensive and cover a wide variety of information. Initially, there was a fairly high-level hierarchy of officials responsible for planning and organising census operations. At the Central level there was an Agricultural Census Commissioner of India with adequate supporting staff and also a Monitoring Group under the Chairmanship of a Special Secretary. There used to be a corresponding mechanism at the State level to plan and supervise the census operations. However, over time, there has been depletion in the numbers and status of personnel in charge of the census. Apparently, the census ceased to have the same importance and priority, with the result that there has been significant erosion in the quality and timeliness of census data. It is essential that concerted measures are taken for effective management and organisation of the census and that it is carried out in time.
4.9.9 The patwari agency, which is responsible for this primary data collection, is already over-burdened with multifarious activities. The census work does not receive due priority and there is reason to believe that the work is not done properly. It is therefore desirable to explore the possibility of reducing the workload of patwari. The Commission proposes that the Agricultural Census should henceforth be carried out on a sample basis. A sample census in 20 per cent of villages is considered adequate to meet most of the data requirements. Even now a large part of the census information is obtained from a 20 per cent sample of villages. Only the information on the number and area of holdings is obtained with cent per cent coverage in the temporarily settled States and the rest of census operations are limited to a 20 per cent sample.
4.9.10 As mentioned before, the method of re-tabulation of land records in temporarily settled States does not enable collection of information on the farm and livestock population associated with the operational holdings. This needs a household enquiry. There is even now an element of household enquiry in these States to gather information on part holdings held by resident holders outside the village precincts. The scope of the enquiry may be slightly enlarged to include the above information. The household enquiry also serves as a cross check on the other characteristics of the holdings derived from re-tabulation of land records.
4.9.11 The Commission is of the view that a sample census will be a better-controlled and more manageable programme without in any way compromising its objectives. The computerisation of land records, that is likely to be completed shortly in many States, will also help in reducing manual re-tabulation and thus relieve the patwari agency of a part of the work load.
4.9.12 In order to improve the census operations, there has to be an appropriate strengthening of managerial personnel with an independent Agricultural Census Commissioner of sufficiently high status at the centre and suitable counterparts in the States. Necessary arrangements will have to be made for updating the village land records and for adequate supervision. Careful planning, advance preparation, and thorough training of primary staff are essential for successful conduct of the census.
4.9.13 The Commission, therefore, recommends that:
The Agricultural Census should henceforth be on a sample basis and the same should be conducted in a 20 per cent sample of villages.
There should be an element of household enquiry (besides re-tabulation) in the Agricultural Census in the temporarily settled States.
Computerisation of land records should be expedited to facilitate the Agricultural Census operations.
There should be adequate provision for effective administrative supervision over the fieldwork of Agricultural Census and also a technical check on the quality of data with the help of the State statistical agency.
The post of the Agricultural Census Commissioner of India at the Centre should be restored and should be of the level of Additional Secretary to be able to interact effectively with the State Governments. Further, this post should be earmarked for a senior statistician.
The Census Monitoring Board should be revived to oversee the Agricultural Census operations.