The Telangana government will conduct what it calls an Intensive Household Survey on August 19. The survey aims to collect the names, ages, caste, physical disabilities, access to electricity, ownership of agricultural lands and other details of 84 lakh households in the state in a single day.

On paper, this seems possible. On the day,  20 lakh investigators will go door-to-door from 8 am to 8 pm. Each investigator will have to cover 21 houses in 12 hours including travel time, which could possibly give her 15 to 20 minutes in each house.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao says that the government of the new state, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in June, wants to understand its social composition, cut wastage and corruption and plan better welfare schemes.

But a survey of this sort is prone to a large number of mistakes and the government should have given itself more time to train its investigators properly, says KC Suri, political science professor at the Central University of Hyderabad. “Many of the questions in the survey are open to interpretation," he said. "How will enumerators interpret the answers to these questions.”

Suri points particularly to the tricky questions 21, 22 and 23 in a draft of the survey form that is being circulated. These questions pertain to people from other states who live in Telangana. The questions translated from the Telugu questionnaire are:

Which state are you from?

Language spoken

Year of coming [to Telangana]

“If a person is born in Madurai but has been living in Hyderabad, should he say that he is from Tamil Nadu?” said Suri.

Concerns about welfare schemes
It isn't clear whether these questions, which were not on the initial draft questionnaire, will appear in the final survey. But irrespective of whether residents have to answer these questions next Tuesday , many are concerned that the government could use this data to make a decision about their birthplaces and the benefits due to them.

Nativity has become a bone of contention in the state since the state cabinet decided in July that only students whose parents were born in or moved to Telangana before 1956 would be eligible for financial assistance from the state.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao and members of his government insist that the survey does not have questions on nativity. They say that the  data will help them create programmes that will especially benefit the poor.

Despite this, fears persist that people who have been living in Telangana for decades will be not be counted as natives if the government decided to use 1956 as the cut-off year for these welfare schemes as well. Residents worry that the data will also be used to mark people out on the job market. “The main purpose is to eliminate Andhra people from employment opportunities in Telangana,” said P Narasimha Rao, economics professor at Acharya Nagarjuna University.  "I see no other intent behind the survey."

However, one of the proponents of the Telangana movement and Osmania University political scientist, Kodanda Rama Reddy, believes that the survey will help the Telangana government target beneficiaries for housing schemes, caste-based reservations and old-age pensions. “The state has limited resources," he said. "It wants to use these limited resources within the communities of the Telangana region. This is not discrimination. It is positive support.”

Participation is compulsory
Chief Minister Rao has made participation in the survey compulsory, while making exceptions for people who out of the country or have been called away for emergencies. He has said that households that fail to participate will not be eligible for state benefits. According to media reports, Telugu people working in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and other parts of the country are rushing to book their tickets back for the day of the survey.

The survey is compulsory but answering every question may not be. “The basic assumption of a survey is that the respondent is willing to participate in the survey," said Suri. "That is the basic ethics. One can always decline.”  But he added that in the current climate, there is social pressure to answer every question.

Reddy said that it would be advisable for participants to answer all questions but that they would be under no compulsion to do so.