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Delay in Census

Context: For the first time in the 150-year history of India’s census operations, 2021 Census had to be postponed because of the Covid pandemic.

About Census

  • The census provides information on size, distribution and socio-economic, demographic and other characteristics of the country’s population.
    • Census is essentially a two-step process involving a house-listing and numbering exercise followed by the actual population enumeration.
    • House-listing and numbering takes place in the middle of the year prior to the Census year.
    • Population enumeration happens in two to three weeks of February.
  • Background of Census:
    • According to “Rig Veda,” a population count was kept during 800-600 BC.
    • In his Arthasastra, Kautilya (c. 321-296 BC) emphasised the importance of census taking as a gauge of state policy for taxation purposes.
    • The administrative report ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ from the reign of Mughal monarch Akbar had extensive information about the population, industry, wealth, and many other aspects.
    • India’s first census was carried out in 1872, during the administration of Lord Mayo, the Governor-General. In 1881, the first comprehensive synchronised Census was carried out.
    • Henry Walter is widely regarded as the “Father of the Indian Census.”
    • Census 2021 will be the eighth since independence and the 16th such effort overall.
Delay in Census
Delay in Census

Constitutional and Legal Provision for Census

  • Constitutional Provision: A Census is constitutionally mandated in India, but it does not say when the Census has to be carried out, or what the frequency of this exercise should be. Thus, there is no Constitutional or legal requirement that a Census has to be done every 10 years.
    • The population census is a Union subject under Article 246 of India Constitution.
    • It is listed at serial number 69 of the seventh schedule of the constitution.
  • Legal Provision for Census: The Census of India Act of 1948, which provides the legal framework for carrying out the Census, also does not mention its timing or periodicity.
    • The Act makes it obligatory on the part of every citizen to answer the Census question truthfully and also penalises for giving false information.
  • Office: The decennial Census is conducted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs.
    • It was formed for arranging, conducting and analysing the results of the demographic surveys of India including Census of India and Linguistic Survey of India.
    • Census Rules, created in 1990, were amended by the Union government in 2022 to enable self-enumeration by respondents as well as the capture and storage of information in electronic form.

Significance of Census

  • Reliable source of data: The Census is the only reliable source of population information for every village and town in the nation.
    • Census data is used by researchers and demographers to forecast population growth and trends.
    • Contains the most reliable statistics: Information on language, religion, migration, disability, SCs and STs, housing & household amenities, urbanisation, literacy and education, and a variety of other sociocultural and demographic statistics.
  • Good governance: The government uses the census data for management, planning, and policy-making, as well as for managing and evaluating a number of activities.
  • Reservation: The number of seats that must be set aside for SCs and STs in the Parliament, State legislatures, local authorities, and government services is determined using the Census data.
    • The number of seats reserved for SCs and STs in panchayats and municipal authorities is determined by their share in the population.
  • Future planning: It offers solutions to organise, deal with issues, and make improvements. Government conducts an examination of the census data and develops future policies in accordance.
  • Funding: Based on population figures obtained from the Census data, the Finance Commission awards payments to the states.
  • Welfare programmes: Census is the key to establishing identification and reaffirming it over time by identifying the actual beneficiaries. Census statistics provide for easy intertemporal comparison.

Consequences of Delayed Census

  • Trust Factor: The reliability of outdated census data, which is still available from the 2011 Census, has an impact on both people who do and do not benefit from assistance programmes.
    • It may be necessary for researchers and decision-makers to rely on old data or other data sources, which might not offer the same level of precision or granularity.
    • Census data is essential since other sample surveys carried out throughout the nation refer to them. For instance, data from the 2011 census were utilised in the most recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), which was published last year.
  • Policy Planning: Missed opportunities for targeted interventions, economic planning, and commercial decisions can be brought on by a census delay.
  • Funds Allocation: Since Finance Commission takes census statistics into consideration, funding distribution to the states would be disproportionate without precise data.
  • Migration data: Census information is essential for understanding migration, migration patterns, and the economic effects of migration.
    • Because of the Census’s delay, policymakers and planners do not have access to the most recent data on domestic and international migration.
  • Delimitation/reservation of Constituencies: Panchayats that have seen rapid changes in the composition of their population over the last decade, would mean that either too many or too few seats are being reserved.
  • Rural-urban distribution of population: There is high unaccounted population growth in urban areas. Some cities have been growing faster than others through in-migration, which needs to be controlled by analysing trends obtained through census data.


  • The census is vital and precious as it is a repository of complete data about the country which is gathered openly, voluntarily, and with the use of public money, making it a social good.
  • The new Census is likely to capture the extent of the observed movement in migration trends towards smaller two-tier towns apart from the large metropolitan centre.
  • Inaccuracies in population statistics, stymied planning and development, difficulties with resource allocation, effects on political representation, restrictions on research and analysis, and missed chances for decision-making are just a few of the many consequences of a delayed census.
  • Thus, it is crucial to complete the census on time in order to ensure accurate and current data for efficient governance and growth.

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