Delay in Conducting Census

Due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, GoI suspended the 16th census operations due in 2021. However, there is still a lack of consensus from the government regarding conducting the census.

USA, Canada and China successfully completed their census exercises in Late 2020, when the pandemic was still rampant.

Elections were conducted for several state legislatures while a census was not conducted.


Census is a complete enumeration of the entire population of any country. It provides information on the size, distribution, socioeconomic characteristics, demographics etc of a country’s population. Census in India is conducted at an interval of every decade. To date, India has successfully conducted 15 successive censuses since 1872.

Significance of census:

  • Provides the most accurate and widely used data for a sampling frame.
  • Provides denominators for the computation of monitoring and evaluation indicators.
  • Facilitates judicious and fair allocation of resources for constitutionally mandated redistribution of taxes, electoral constituencies’ delimitation and corroborative action policies.

Thus, there is a need to expedite the conduct of the census at the earliest.

Impact of Delay in the Census

  • Deprive people of their rightful entitlement under various government schemes – For example under National Food Security Act, 2013 67% of the population is entitled to subsidised food grains. Under the 2011 Census, India’s population was about 121 crores, hence PDS covered approximately 80 crore people. However, population growth over the last decade should mean PDS coverage to around 92 crore people but the current delay in Census data is depriving these people of subsidised food entitlements.
  • Impacts policy planning, budgeting and administration – For example, the Integrated Child Development Scheme is supposed to be universal, so any pregnant woman or young child can be registered at the Anganwadis. But in practice, when States don’t have an accurate idea of what is the total population of potential beneficiaries, some of them put a cap or quota per Anganwadi for funding purposes.

The benefit of undertaking a regular census

  • Provides authentic data on demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, language, religion, migration, disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.
  • Provides basic data for administration, planning and policy-making purpose to Central and State Governments, National and International Agencies, Scholars, businesspeople, industrialists etc.
  • Provides the only source of primary data in the lowest administrative unit i.e., Village/Ward level for governance purposes.
  • Provides an instantaneous photographic picture of the population.
  • Provides trends in population characteristics in terms of magnitude and direction of the various demographic trends.  
  • Used for the purpose of delimitation of constituencies as it is done based on the population of a given area.  
  • Used by Finance Commission to give grants to the states based on population figures available from the Census data.

Concerns related to census

  • Delay in data release: Many census tables are published 5-7 years after the census. This has significant repercussions for understanding social change since data may remain unreleased or released only in parts. For example, nearly a decade after the SECC, a sizeable amount of data remains unreleased.  
  • Furnishing of false information: Due to fear of losing the intended benefits of various schemes (or fear of losing citizenship this time) and lack of education, people fabricate and tend to provide false information.
  • Costly exercise: The government incurs huge expenditures (thousands of crores) in conducting this exercise.
  • Security: Census-2021 will for the first time have data collected digitally via mobile applications (installed on the enumerator’s phone). However, the security of the data being collected (especially on the application) and adequate backup mechanism for such data is a concern.
  • Abuse of data: The availability of data with regional authorities has the potential for abuse of such data, as the concerned authority has access to everything about a particular family (ownership, caste, financial aspects, occupation, lifestyle, etc.).
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