Citizenship and Related Issues

Census: A prerequisite for economic development


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Census

Mains level: Census importance, challenges and implications of postponing



  • India aspires to be a $10 trillion economy by 2035. To achieve this, conducting population Census, due in 2021 but postponed indefinitely because of Covid, is necessary. Such data is essential for planning at the village or block level to usher in economic and social development, ensure better governance, and increase the transparency of public schemes and programmes.

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What is a census?

  • It is nothing but a process of collecting, compiling, analysing, evaluating, publishing and disseminating statistical data regarding the population.
  • It covers demographic, social and economic data and is provided as of a particular date.


What is the purpose?

  • To collect the information for planning and formulation policies for Central and the State Governments.
  • The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation.
  • It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities.
  • The census data is widely used by National and International Agencies, scholars, business people, industrialists, and many more.

Why conducting a Census has become a prerequisite for economic development?

  • Lack of complete civil registration system: Since many states (and districts) lack a complete civil registration system with a full count of birth and death data, demographers face enormous challenges in providing population counts at the district level. In several instances, estimates tend to be far off the mark, especially for newly formed districts and states.
  • Changing pattern of migration: migration data collected in the Census has great implications for economic activities and social harmony. As India progresses economically, the pattern of migration has been changing in unprecedented ways. The migration pattern in India in the present decade is very different from what the data in Census 2001 and 2011 suggest. Hence, in the absence of updated data, it is difficult to draw conclusions about migration in India.
  • Other surveys does not provide comprehensive data: The Census counts everyone across regions, classes, creeds, religions, languages, castes, marital status, differently-abled populations, occupation patterns etc. Most national-level surveys such as NFHS and NSSO do not have representative data at the population subgroup level, unlike the former. The existence of numerous faiths and languages as well as the expansion or extinction of such communities will be known only via population Census.


In the absence of it how demographers collect data?

  • Estimates using past census information: In the absence of updated data, demographers estimate the annual population count at the district level using past Census information for the intercensal or postcensal period. Say, to estimate the population of a district in India in the year 2015, they use the district-level population growth rate between the 2001 and 2011 Census.
  • Such estimates are fair for maximum of 10 years: Such demographic exercises give reasonably fair estimates when the year of population estimation is within the range of a maximum of 10 years. Beyond this period, estimations can be erroneous, particularly at the district level due to dynamic patterns of population components, among them fertility, mortality and migration.
  • Assumptions based model in faster demographic transition: Many districts of India are experiencing a faster demographic transition with varying fertility and mortality rates. So, using the growth rate of 2001-2011 for the period after 2021 becomes more of an assumption-based model than a model that reflects empirical reality. Covid-19 further makes the situation complex as it impacts the fertility and mortality situation in the country.

Demand for caste census in India

  • India’s population has since increased three-fold to 1.21 billion in 2011.
  • Experts believe the economic status of the dominant OBC castes have improved in the past 80 years and certain castes have not benefited as much.
  • So, the new caste census is required to measure the economic and social well-being of all castes.


History and a Way ahead

  • India has a long history of conducting Census without interruption from 1881 with the rare exception of Assam in 1981 and Jammu Kashmir in 1991 due to socio-political unrest and secessionist movements.
  • Conducting it regular at the national and sub-national levels has been a matter of pride for India.
  • It has to be continued until India achieves a fool-proof civil registration system and a dynamic National Population Register.


  • Conducting the population Census is a mammoth task, of course. Full involvement of the government system is necessary to organise it. But the it is necessary since it forms the basis of all the plans and programmes that the government wants to implement. Postponing the it has immediate and long-term negative consequences for India. The government and other stakeholders should take urgent steps to conduct the Census as early as possible.

Mains question

Q. What is census? Why conducting a Census has become a prerequisite for economic development and also discuss the impact of delayed census.

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