1 Oct 2019

Census 2021

Source: The Hindu

Manifest pedagogy:Census exercise is fundamental for demographic planning and economic development of the country. Census data forms the very base for regulatory and developmental functions in the country. Caste census is a complex and  controversial issue in the country. The issue of census could be asked especially from mains perspective at this juncture. 

In news: Census 2021 to be conducted soon.

Placing it in syllabus: Population census (explicitly mentioned)

Static dimensions:

  • What is census exercise?
  • Utility of census data
  • History of census exercise in India

Current dimensions:

  • Census 2021
  • Socio Economic caste census (SECC) of 2011
  • Utility and criticisms of SECC


What is census exercise?

  • Population Census is the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specific time, of all persons in a country or a well-defined part of a country. 
  • It provides a snapshot of the country’s population and housing at a given point of time.
  • Census data is taken by visiting each and every household and gathering particulars by asking questions and filling up census forms.
  • These forms are scanned at high speed and extracting the data automatically using computer software.
  • Intelligent Character Recognition Software (ICR) technology came in India in Census 2001.
  • Static aspect of the census is that it provides an instantaneous photographic picture as it was of a community, which is valid at a particular moment of time.
  • Dynamic aspect is that it provides the trends in population characteristics.
  • The information collected during the process is confidential and is not even accessible to the courts of law.

Utility of census data:

The population census is the primary source of basic national population data required for administrative purposes and for many aspects of economic and social research and planning.

  1. Utility in Administration and Policy:

The population census provides the basic data for administrative purposes. It is used in the demarcation of territorial constituencies and the allocation of representation on governing bodies. It also gives information on the demographic and economic characteristics of the population at the district level. 

  1. Utility of Census data for Research Purposes:

The population census provides indispensable data for scientific analysis and appraisal of the composition, distribution and past and prospective growth of the population. 

  1. Utility of Census data in Business and Industry:

Reliable estimates of consumer demand for a variety of goods and services depend on accurate information on the size of the population and its distribution. Since the local availability of labour for production and distribution of commodities is important in determining the location and organisation of enterprises, this calls for the need of the census data.

  1. Census as frame for Sample Surveys: 

The Sample Registration Scheme of Registrar General’s office in India utilises the list of census villages and blocks as frame for the registration of births and deaths. Thus the census provides the frame for subsequent sample enquiries during the intercensal period.

  1. Utility of Census data in Planning:

The census data is indispensable for social and economic planning of the Country. The census data can prove very useful in the formulation of policies on education, health, agriculture, food and development of road, rail transport etc.. 

  1. Utility of Population Census to Electoral Rolls: 

Some countries have taken advantage of the enumeration for a population census to collect, at the same time, information needed for the establishment of electoral rolls. 

  1. Utility of population census to civil registration and vital statistics:

Census results, time-adjusted by vital and migration statistics, can provide estimates of the future size, distribution and other characteristics of the population of the total country. Further, census data on fertility can provide a bench-mark check on the reliability of current birth statistics. 

History of census exercise in India:

  • The earliest literature ‘Rig-Veda’ reveals that some kind of population count was maintained in during 800-600 BC in India. 
  • ‘Arthashastra’ by ‘Kautilya’ written in the 3rd Century BC prescribed the collection of population statistics as a measure of state policy for taxation. 
  • The administrative report ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ (of Mughal King Akbar period) included comprehensive data pertaining to population, industry, wealth and many other characteristics.
  • A population census was conducted in 1872 in some parts of the country. 
  • However, the first synchronous census in India was held in 1881 (W.C. Plowden was the Census Commissioner of India). 
  • Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years.
  • Census 2011 was the 15th National Census of the country since 1872 and the 7th after Independence.

Census 2021:

  • The next census of India to be conducted in 2021 with March 1, 2021 (followed by a revisional round from March 1 to 5, 2021) as the reference date, except for the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • The reference date for the census is October 1, 2020 for Jammu and Kashmir and snow bound areas of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand (revisional round from October 1 to 5, 2020).

  • The 2021 census will seek information from households on smartphones.
  • Will be conducted in 18 languages out of the 22 scheduled languages and English, while Census 2011 was in 16 of the 18 scheduled languages declared at that time.
  • It will not collect caste data (The last caste-based census was conducted by the British in 1931). While the socio-economic caste census (SECC) was conducted alongside Census 2011, the outcome of the caste census is yet to be made public. 
  • The Census 2021 houselisting questionnaire, which will seek information from households on 34 parameters between April 2020 and September 2020, will no longer seek a breakup of male and female persons in a household.
  • The latest census will have a listing for third gender. The option of “Other” under the gender category will be changed to “Third Gender”. 
  • The personal details to be sought during Population Enumeration exercise of Census 2021, will include 28 instead of 29 parameters earlier. The fresh inclusions mainly pertain to new categories of disabilities as per the latest definition.
  • For 2021, the data to be collected is being codified to make reading and collation easier. (Data from the Census 2011 is still being released. E.g. The dataset on migration was published recently).

The data can be collected by enumerator (31 lakh enumerators to be trained) on his android based phone, registered with the census authorities, via an application, though he/she will also have the option to collect the same on paper and then make data entries. 

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.

Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011:

SECC, 2011 is the first paperless census in India conducted on hand-held electronic devices by the government in 640 districts. by the Ministry of Rural development.

Findings of SECC,2011:

  • There are a total number of 24.39 crore households in India, of which 17.91 crore live in villages. Of these, 10.69 crore households are considered as deprived.
  • 49% of the households can be considered poor in the sense of facing some deprivation.
  • The vast majority – over 90% of rural India, does not have salaried jobs.
  • Given the level of education – fewer than 10 per cent make it to higher secondary or above and just 3.41 per cent of households have a family member who is at least a graduate.
  • Only 30% of rural households depend on cultivation as their main source of income. Whereas, 51.14% derive sustenance from manual casual labour (MCL)
  • In nearly 75 percent of the rural households, the main earning family member makes less than Rs 5,000 per month (or Rs 60,000 annually). In just eight per cent of households does the main earning member makes more than Rs 10,000 per month.
  • 56.25% of rural households hold no agricultural land.

Thus, among the indicators, landlessness and a reliance on manual labour contributes the greatest to deprivation. The findings of the census are similar to that of the Rangarajan committee on poverty (2012) which had found that the percentage of people below the poverty line (BPL) in 2011-12 was 30.95 in rural areas and 26.4 in urban areas.

Utility and criticism of SECC:

The data is helpful in identifying individual beneficiaries for all government welfare schemes to ensure that benefits meant for the deprived population reach the right people.

A panel, headed by former finance secretary Sumit Bose, in its report spoke in favour of using SECC data for rural development schemes and suggested a formula to use some of the deprivation parameters to identify the beneficiaries for specific schemes. 

Several schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin, which used the poverty line figures to identify beneficiaries are now using SECC data instead. Besides the rural development ministry, some departments including health and electricity have shown inclination to use SECC data instead of the poverty line estimates.

Many states have also expressed interest in using the data to identify the actual deprived for their schemes for poor households for schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY)- LPG connection scheme.

SECC data provides for automatic exclusion on the basis of 14 parameters, automatic inclusion on the basis of five parameters, and grading of deprivation on the basis of seven criteria. In the event that there is a disparity in the identification of beneficiaries using the below poverty line certificate and the SECC data, the latter is likely to prevail since it is more scientific and targeted.


  • When it comes to the identification of the most deprived districts, India’s old problem of identifying beneficiaries has not been fully solved yet.
  • NC Saxena, whose recommendations led to the SECC argues that there might be inherent biases in the data.
  • Respondents might have overstated the extent of their deprivation in order to be identified as beneficiaries of welfare schemes.
  • Errors in enumeration might have led to under-counting of the poorest sections. 
  • With regard to the caste information, there were 81 million errors reported, that are still being rectified. 

One solution could be to use SECC data at a state-level using state-specific criteria, as being done with the PDS, according to the development economist Jean Dreze. In a few states including Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar, the state government is using the SECC as the basis for identifying PDS beneficiaries.