Hyderabad: On Tuesday, it was easier getting to work. Autos, buses and most of public transport were off the streets and the only ones out were those who really couldn't 'stay at home' - doctors, airport officials, emergency personnel and husbands.
But when the surveyor comes knocking, and if you’re not home, you require a document from your employer, stating that 'Yes, he/she is at work, and no, we can't afford to give this person a holiday'. So, several excuses explaining the absence of a family member are just met with an outstretched hand asking, show us where he/she is.
This is how Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao’s much-awaited 'Intensive Household Survey - 2014' (will there be one in 2015?) is playing out in a city that's now a bit worried about the study - especially because there has been a severe cultural division here post the carving up of Telangana.
One set of the population has been accused of theft (of land and jobs) while the other has been told they've been getting a raw deal for years. In a state that really values wealth, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has in one swift stroke, divided opinion and worst of all, neighbours.
Questions from the 60,000-odd enumerators are mostly innocuous. In countries like Germany, similar surveys have been carried out to assess living standards but here in Hyderabad, the word 'nativity' looms high and heavy.
Those from Andhra speak of a little twitch of discomfort. "Why do they want to know where we are from?' 'Why do they want to know how many air-conditioning units we have at home?' and WHY THE HELL SHOULD I GIVE THEM MY BANK ACCOUNT?
These are fears... not FAQs.
Photos: Household survey in Telangana
Here are some of the queries:
1. Where do you come from? Are you married? How many bedrooms do you have in this house? Are there more properties? Do you own land? How many cars do you have? Do you have children? And more...
Many have been co-operative and forthcoming with details. The Chief Minister had said the survey was to determine how many households in Telangana were beneficiaries of certain discounts on LPG, fees and more.
Many however, are wondering why the 'Are you rich?' tone. 'Why does it matter to the Chief Minister how many bedrooms we have.'
Also, this is a 'completely voluntary' survey. You can choose to give a blank stare to every question from the enumerator or you can simply say, No thanks - Wish you had that option in school right?
But that reflects a certain uselessness to the whole process. Why would you mobilise over 10,000 people to cover 77 lakh households... at a rumoured cost of Rs 500 per surveyor (for a day's work) if there's no need to even answer the doorbell?
There was an attempt to bring about a stay on the survey but the Hyderabad High Court dismissed the petition saying the preparations were at an advanced stage and that the survey was completely voluntary. The petitioner, a practicing lawyer, did however, mention that most of the survey's nature was against the guidelines set down by the Census Act 1948.
What about the data?
Every statistic collected in modern-day India must be digitised. But the Telangana government has sort of failed to provide clear details on what will become of this information.
There has been no information on servers, the guys storing the data and a very important question remains - Will this be sold to the telemarketeer lady? It has happened before in this state.
Just imagine how much of a goldmine this is for those still trying to sell you credit cards because they, in fact, will even have access to the number of bedrooms you have!
The CM's response to a pointed question on data safety, when asked if he was worried about telemarketeers... was this: "Let them take the data. What purpose will it serve? It's only social and economic data, which can be accessed by all."
Well Mr CM. I gave the enumerator my phone number, my car registration, my history and yes, the number of bedrooms in my house. I'll be more than upset if someone tries to sell me curtains over the phone at 9am.
So, here you go. Besides being just intensive, the survey is strange, bizarre and mostly useless. Many wonder if this will help in plugging the potholes or getting electricity to a city where people have given up traveling in lifts.
It was, most importantly, a good day to drive to work.