Citizenship and Related Issues

Census unlikely before 2024 Lok Sabha polls


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Census of India

Mains level: Evidence-based decision making


Central Idea

  • Deadline extension: The deadline to freeze administrative boundaries for the Census in India has been extended till December 31, ruling out the possibility of conducting the Census before the 2024 General Elections.

What is Census of India?

  • The Census of India is a large-scale population survey conducted by the Government of India.
  • It aims to gather detailed information about the population, demographics, and socio-economic characteristics of the country.

Historical Background

  • Inaugural Census: The first complete Census of India was conducted in 1881 during British rule.
  • Institutional Framework: Since 1949, the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, have been responsible for conducting the Census.
  • Legal Framework: The Census of India Act, 1948 provides the legal basis for conducting the census.

Extension of Deadline and Administrative Changes

  • Order by Registrar General: The office of the Registrar General of India issued an order extending the date of freezing boundaries for the Census to January 1, 2024.
  • Instructing State governments: The Directorate of Census Operations has been instructed to inform State governments to make any necessary administrative changes by December 31 and notify the Census office of the jurisdictional changes.

Reasons for Delay

  • Training time: After the boundaries are frozen, at least three months are required to train enumerators for the Census.
  • Timing constraint: The exercise cannot begin before April 2024 due to simultaneous General Elections, as the same workforce will be deployed for election duties.
  • Transition to digital: The coming Census will be the first digital Census, allowing citizens to self-enumerate.

Phases of Census and Population Projections

  • Two-phase process: The Census is carried out in two phases: the Houselisting and Housing Census and the Population Enumeration phase, which typically takes around 11 months.
  • National Population Register (NPR): The NPR is updated with the first phase of the Census.
  • Population projections: Based on Census 2011 data, population projections indicate an expected increase from 121.1 crore to 151.8 crore during 2011-2036, with a density increase from 368 to 462 persons per square kilometer.

Purpose and Importance of the Census

  • Data for planning and policymaking: The Census provides information for central and state governments to plan and formulate policies.
  • National identity and future planning: It helps identify the nation’s demographic composition and guides future development and resource allocation.
  • Funding distribution: Census data assists in determining how funds and assistance are distributed to states and localities.
  • Wide-ranging applications: The data is used by various national and international agencies, scholars, businesses, and policymakers.

Significance and Impact of the Census

  • Governance and statistics: The Census is a vital source of statistics for governance and serves as a foundation for official statistics.
  • Detailed demographic insights: It provides data on demography, economic activity, literacy, housing, migration, and other socio-cultural factors.
  • Delimitation of constituencies: The Census data is used for delimitation and reservation of parliamentary, assembly, and local body constituencies.
  • Policy formulation and administration: The Census helps review progress, monitor government schemes, and plan for the future.
  • Welfare schemes and beneficiaries: It identifies actual beneficiaries, supports identity creation, and ensures inter-temporal comparability.

Impact of Delay in Census 2021

  • Discrepancies in PDS identification: Delayed census data affects the identification of beneficiaries under the public distribution system, depriving people of subsidised food entitlements.
  • Poor targeting of welfare schemes: The delay hampers policy planning, budgeting, and administration of schemes that rely on accurate demographic data.
  • Inadequate migration data: Outdated census data fails to capture accurate migration patterns and impacts policy and planning in various sectors.

Reasons for Delay

  • Administrative boundaries: Census can only be conducted after freezing the boundaries of administrative units, which takes time.
  • COVID-19 pandemic: The pandemic is officially cited as the reason for the delay, although restrictions have been lifted.
  • CAA and NRC issues: The plan to use the census for the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has further delayed the process.
  • Lack of political will: The government’s lack of urgency and clarification on the census timeline contribute to the delay.

Way Forward

  • Complete pre-census work: Expedite house-listing and other necessary activities.
  • Digital census and self-enumeration: Utilize mobile apps and self-enumeration to streamline data collection and processing.
  • Ensure data quality: Address concerns regarding data quality and completeness of coverage during self-enumeration.


  • The delay in conducting the Census poses challenges for accurate population data and planning in India.
  • The next Census, to be conducted after the 2024 General Elections, will mark a significant milestone as the first digital Census, providing citizens the opportunity to self-enumerate.

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