General Studies IGEOGRAPHY

Census of India


Owing to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Census of India 2021 and other Census-related field activities have been postponed by the Union Home Ministry.

Who conducts census?

The responsibility of conducting the decennial Census rests with the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India under Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

About census

  • Census includes the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing, evaluating, publishing and disseminating statistical data regarding the population and its characteristics.
  • Population characteristics include demographic, social and economic data and are provided as of a particular date (reference period).
  • Census provides detailed information on economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanization, fertility and mortality, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, language, religion, migration, disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.

History of Census of India

  • While it has been undertaken every 10 years, beginning in 1872 under British Viceroy Lord In the modern era, the census began with the British authorities holding census for the town of Allahabad in 1824. After that in 1827-28, Benares also had a census.
  • The first complete census of an Indian city was done for Dacca (now in Bangladesh) by Henry Walter in 1830.
  • Similarly, different regions had their census taken in various years. In 1865, the government of India decided that a general census of the country would be taken in 1871.
  • In 1866-67, actual counting of heads was taken in most parts of the country and this came to be known as the Census of 1872. Not all territories were covered under this though. In this first nation-wide census, 17 questions were asked pertaining to name, age, religion, caste/class, nationality or race, ability to read/write, and whether attended school or college. Males were asked a separate question on occupation also.
  • After that every ten years, the regular census has been conducted by the government.
  • 1941 saw the last census before independence. After India attained independence, the Bhore Committee recommended the government to appoint a Registrar General of Vital and Population Statistics at the central and the provincial levels.
  • As per the Committee’s recommendations, the Census Act came into effect in 1948. The 1951 census was conducted in accordance with this act.
  • The 1951 census’s enumeration period was from 9th to 28th February. Questions were asked pertaining to an individual’s name, age, religion, sex, relationship, economic status, principal and subsidiary means of livelihood, mother tongue and literacy.
  • The National Register of Citizens of India (NRC) was prepared after this census.
  • The whole state of Jammu & Kashmir was omitted during this census and the data for this state was taken based on past figures.
  • This census revealed the population of the country to be 36,10,88,090. The male to female ratio was 1: 0.946.
  • Only 18% of the population was literate and the average life expectancy was a mere 32 years.
  • As per this census, 72,26,000 people migrated to Pakistan and 72,49,000 people migrated to India during the partition of India.
  • The last census was held in 2011, whilst the next will be held in 2021.

What will be different in 2021 census:

  • The Census 2021 will be conducted in 18 languages out of the 22 scheduled languages (under 8th schedule) and English, while Census 2011 was in 16 of the 22 scheduled languages declared at that time.
  • It also will introduce a code directory to streamline the process
  • The option of “Other” under the gender category will be changed to “Third Gender”.
    • There were roughly 5 lakh people under “other” category in 2011.
  • For the first time in the 140 year history of census in India, data is proposed to be collected through a mobile app by enumerators and they will receive an additional payment as an incentive.
  • The Census data would be available by the year 2024-25 as the entire process would be conducted digitally and data crunching would be quicker.
    • Data from the Census 2011 is still being released. E.g.: The dataset on migration was published recently.

Utility of Census

Administration and Policy

  • One of the most basic of the administrative uses of census data is in the demarcation of constituencies and the allocation of representation on governing bodies. (Delimitation Exercise)
  • The social and cultural data collected in the census is employed to determine the total number of seats to be reserved for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the House of People and the Legislative Assemblies of the States.
  • Information on the geographic distribution of the population, its size and its other characteristics is essential for evaluation of economic and social problems, which must precede the determination of policy affecting economic and social development.

Research Purposes

  • The changing patterns of urban-rural concentration, the development of urbanised areas, the geographic distribution of population according to occupation and education, the sex and age structure of population, social and economic characteristics of population are the questions of scientific interest which are of importance both to research and practical problems of industrial and commercial growth and management.

Business and Industry

  • Reliable estimates of consumer demand for variety of goods and services depend on accurate information on the size of the population and its distribution.
  • These characteristics heavily influence the demand for housing, furnishing, clothing, recreational facilities, medical supplies and so forth.


  • The census data is indispensable for social and economic planning of the Country.
  • The census data also prove useful in national income estimates and estimates on differential personal incomes in rural and urban areas.
  • An analysis of areas of different population size with different characteristics serves as a basis for Government plans and investigations in basic social capital.
  • The data on economic activity and educational levels of the individual as collected in the census is very important for manpower planning.
  • In a nutshell, the census data can prove very useful in the formulation of policies on education, health, agriculture, food and development of road, rail transport etc.

Vital statistics

  • Census data serve as denominators for the computation of vital rates.
  • Example: Migration Statistics, birth and death rates, fertility rates, gross and net birth rates.
  • Census data on fertility can provide a bench-mark check on the reliability of current birth statistics.

Targeted distribution of Tax Revenues

  • This is because population plays a key role in routing revenue.

Issues with the Census

(1) Data quality issues

  • The past four decades have seen a decline in the quality of data and growing delays in its release despite technological innovations.
  • The use of census data in delimitation and federal redistribution has been questioned on grounds of poor quality, while the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the obsolete and poor quality of data on internal migration.

(2) No major reforms

  • The legal foundation of the census has remained largely unchanged since newly independent India enacted permanent census legislation in 1948.
  • Despite sustained problems, the census has not seen any major reform after 1994 when both the Census Act, 1948 and Census Rules, 1990 were amended.

(3) Old methods and questionnaire

  • The methodological core – extended de facto (synchronous) canvasser-based enumeration – too has remained intact even though the length and layout of schedules changed quite a bit.
  • The Household Schedule, for instance, grew with the footprint of the state, from 14 questions in 1951 to 29 questions in 2011.

(4) Workforce issues

  • Data collection has not kept pace with improvements in data processing technology due to the lack of motivated and adequately trained enumerators.
  • Given the high salaries of school teachers, the modest honorarium paid for census work does not cover the opportunity cost of conducting the door-to-door enumeration.


Census is the basis for reviewing the country’s progress in the past decade, monitoring the ongoing Schemes of the Goverment and most importantly, planning for the future. That is why the Slogan is “Our Census – Our Future”.

Source: The Hindu

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