Citizenship and Related Issues

Census exercise postponed till September 2023


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Census of India

Mains level: Significance of Census


The decennial census exercise has been postponed till September, at least, as the government informed States that the date of freezing of administrative boundaries has been extended till June 30.

What is the Census of India?

  • The decennial Census of India has been conducted 16 times, as of 2021.
  • While it has been undertaken every 10 years, beginning in 1872 under British Viceroy Lord Mayo, the first complete census was taken in 1881.
  • Post 1949, it has been conducted by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • All the censuses since 1951 were conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act.
  • The last census was held in 2011, whilst the next was to be held in 2021. But it has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the purpose of the census?

  • 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 is the census important?

  • Vital statistics for governance: The census is the foundational database for official statistics and policymaking in a modern economy. Outdated census data makes block and district-level planning particularly difficult, since survey data do not offer that kind of high resolution.
  • Provides most credible statistics: Information on Demography, Economic Activity, Literacy and Education, Housing & Household Amenities, Urbanisation, Fertility and Mortality, SCs and STs, Language, Religion, Migration, Disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.
  • Delimitation/reservation of Constituencies: Parliamentary/Assembly/Panchayats and other Local Bodies are also done on the basis of the demographic data thrown up by the Census.
  • Administration: Census is the basis for reviewing the country’s progress in the past decade, monitoring the ongoing Schemes of the Government.
  • Planning the future: It provides pathways for planning and resolving problems, and fixing deficiencies. Government goes through analysis over the census data and formulates policies for the future accordingly.
  • Detailed accounts: The best of sample surveys find it impossible to beat a census as It carries the promise of counting each and every Indian. A census is when the state connects to every individual and it will find it hard to hide or duck from the data.
  • Welfare schemes: Identifying the actual beneficiaries, Census is the key to creating identity and affirming it over time. Census data enable neat, inter-temporal comparability.

Impact of delay in census 2021

(1) Discrepancies in PDS beneficiary identification

  • The National Food Security Act, 2013, says that 75% of the rural population and 50% of the rural population are entitled to receive subsidised food grains from the government under the targeted public distribution system (PDS).
  • Under the 2011 Census, India’s population was about 121 crore, hence PDS covered approximately 80 crore people.
  • If we apply projected population of 137crore ,current delay in Census data would continue to deprive more than 10 crore people of subsidised food entitlements, with the biggest gaps in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with 2.8 crore and 1.8 crore projected exclusions respectively.

(2) Poor targeting of beneficiaries for welfare schemes

  • Although the Government’s intent to use SECC data but failed at budgetary allocation for the projected expansion.
  • Census data may not be used to calculate the beneficiaries of most schemes, but it is critical to policy planning, budgeting and administration.
  • A number of schemes need to use the disaggregated age and fertility indicators to assess effectiveness as demographics change over time.

(3) Identifying migration data

  • From the COVID19 lockdowns it is realized that the Numbers, causes and patterns of migration, which could not be answered using outdated 2011 Census data.
  • The D-tables on migration from the 2011 Census were only released in 2019, so it’s outdated by the time it came out.
  • Apart from the One Nation, One Ration card scheme which now allows for portability of food subsidy entitlements, the migration data is actually not used too much in broader economic policy and planning.

Why there is delay in Census?

  • Administrative boundaries demarcation: As per norms, census can be conducted only three months after freezing of boundary limits of administrative units such as districts, sub-districts, tehsils, talukas etc.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic: The pandemic is being cited as the official reason for the delay, but it is an unconvincing excuse. Pandemic-related restrictions were removed long back.
  • CAA, NRC Issue: The Union government had declared that the 2021 census would be used to draw up an all-India NRC. The Centre is yet to frame the rules for Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
  • Lack of Political will: The Union government has shown no urgency in getting census operations back on track. When questioned about the delay, it refuses to clarify when the census might take place.

Way forward

  • Complete Pre-census work: Conduct house-listing and other allied activites ASAP.
  • Digital census: The data collected through a mobile app will reduce the overall time taken to process the census data and to publish the results in time.
  • Self-enumeration: Allowing households to self-enumerate is a new initiative but it is unclear how successful it would be in terms of data quality and completeness of coverage.


  • The Census of India has to be saved from needless disruptions and inexplicable delays.
  • Unless the census is insulated from day-to-day politics, the integrity of its data will be compromised.
  • The world’s largest democracy deserves clean and honest data.


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