Published on: January 10, 2023

Decennial Census

Decennial Census

Why in news? The Additional Registrar General of India communicated to States about postponed dates of decennial Census of 2021 without specifying a reason.


Who Conducts the Census?

  • The Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, is responsible for carrying out the decennial census.

How is the Census conducted?

  • India’s first proper or synchronous Census, was carried out in 1881 by the colonial administration
  • It has since happened every 10 years, except the one that was supposed to be carried out in 2021.

The decennial census is carried out by lakhs of enumerators by the government in two phases.

  • First phase: Housing Census(data on housing conditions, household amenities and assets possessed by households) are collected
  • Second phase: Data on population, education, religion, economic activity, Scheduled Castes and Tribes etc are collected.

The freezing of boundary limits of administrative units such as districts, sub-districts, tehsils, and police stations, happens between two consecutive censuses as State administrations often create new districts or merge, or reorganise the existing units.

How many times has the 2021 Census been delayed?

  • The Census is conducted under the Census Act of 1948, that predates the Constitution.
  • The Act does not bind the government to conduct the Census on a particular date or to release its data in a notified period.
  • The Centre’s intent to conduct the 2021 Census was notified in the Gazette of India on March 2019.
  • The freeze on administrative boundaries was to be effective from January 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census 2021 and the related field activities have been postponed until further as informed by Minister of state in Rajyasabha
  • According to UN statistics, multiple countries had delayed their census exercises due to the pandemic, but many of them, like the U.S., U.K., China, and Bangladesh, have completed the count by now.

What are implications of the delay?

  • The Census data is crucial for various administrative functions, welfare schemes, and other surveys.
  • Finance Commission allocates funds to States on the basis of Census figures and any delay could put them at a disadvantage.
  • Outdated Census information (available from the last Census in 2011) often becomes unreliable and affects those beneficiary to receive the benefits of welfare schemes.
  • As per the NFSA, 2013, 75% (rural population) and 50% (urban population) totalling 67% of the country’s population — are entitled to receive subsidised food grains from the government under the targeted public distribution system (PDS).
  • Population growth over the last decade means that if the 67% ratio is applied to 2020’s projected population, PDS coverage should have increased to around 92 crore people.
  • Census data are critical for other sample surveys conducted in the country as they use the Census data as a ‘frame’ or list from which a representative sample of the population is selected for surveys.

Ex: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) released last year, it was the 2011 data that served as the sampling frame.

  • The Census is crucial to determine the population of migrants and migration patterns.
  • Pandemic saw a sea of migrants on the country’s roads, and the only data available with the government was from 2011, did not answer queries on the numbers, causes and patterns of migration


 How the delay of decennial Census impact administrative functions, welfare schemes and other datasets? Explain