IAS Gyan



4th June, 2021 Prelims


  • The 2021 Census of India, also the 16th Indian Census, will be taken in 2021.

What is a 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, urbanisation, fertility and mortality, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, language, religion, migration, disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.

Census in Ancient and Medieval India

  • The earliest literature 'Rig-Veda' reveals that some kind of population count was maintained in during 800-600 BC in India.
  • The celebrated 'Arthashastra' by 'Kautilya' written in the 3rd Century BC prescribed the collection of population statistics as a measure of state policy for taxation.
  • It contained a detailed description of methods of conducting population, economic and agricultural censuses.
  • During the regime of the Mughal king Akbar, the administrative report 'Ain-e-Akbari' included comprehensive data pertaining to population, industry, wealth and many other characteristics.

Census in Modern Times

  • The first complete census of India was conducted in 1830 by Henry Walter in Dacca (now Dhaka)part of India at that time. In this census the statistics of the population with sex, broad age group, and the houses with their amenities were collected.
  • Second Census was conducted in 1836-37 by Fort St.George (according to the government website of Census India.)

Non-synchronous Census

  • A systematic and modern population census, in its present form was conducted non-synchronously between 1865 and 1872 in different parts of the country.
  • This effort culminating in 1872 has been popularly labeled as the first population census of India under British Viceroy Lord Mayo.

First synchronous census

  • The first synchronous census in India was held in 1881 by W.C. Plowden, Census Commissioner of India.
  • In this census, the main emphasis was not only laid on complete coverage but also on the classification of demographic, economic and social characteristic took in the entire continent of British India (except Kashmir).
  • Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten year.

Who conducts?

  • Post 1949, it has been conducted by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • All the censuses since 1951 were conducted under the 1948 Census of India Act.
  • The last census was held in 2011, whilst the next will be this year in 2021.

Census 2011: The latest one

  • Census 2011 was the 15th National Census of the country since 1872 and the 7th after Independence.
  • This census was conducted in two phases which are as follows:
  • House Listing or Housing Census
  • Population Enumeration

Census: Important pointers

Important points to know about the Census process:

  • Questions and forms

Census data is taken by visiting each and every household and gathering particulars by asking questions and filling up census forms.

  • Confidential information

The information collected during the process is confidential. In fact, this information is not even accessible to the courts of law.

  • Transportation to data processing centres

The forms are transported to data processing centres located at 15 cities across the country.

  • Intelligent Character Recognition Software (ICR):

This technology came in India in Census 2001 and has become the benchmark for censuses all around the globe.

  • Scanning and extraction of data

This involves the scanning of the census forms at high speed and extracting the data automatically using computer software.

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.

The 2021 Census: What’s new?

  • For the first time the data will be collected digitally via mobile applications.
  • There will be a provision of working in offline mode.
  • This would fetch results almost immediately, unlike earlier cases where it used to take multiple years for the data to be analyzed and the reports published.
  • No document will be required by the citizens to be shown as proof.
  • A self-declaration will be enough.
  • The data collected by enumerator on his/her phone will be registered with the Census authorities.
  • Officials involved in Census will provide multi-language support through Census Monitoring & Management Portal - the single source for all Census related activities.
  • 2021 Census will not collect caste data.
  • For the first time that information of households headed by a person from the transgender community and members living in the family will be collected.


  • Huge expenditure
  • Prone to Content error, and Coverage error.
  • Furnishing of false information: Due to fear of losing intended benefits of Government schemes; Fear of losing citizenship (CAA) and lack of education
  • Security of the data in Application
  • Potential abuse of such data, by concerned Government officials. They will have access to everything about a particular family.
  • Inadequate training of enumerators

Way ahead

  • Strengthening the Data Quality by increasing list of questions in the survey
  • Massive publicity and awareness campaigns explaining importance of Census.
  • Mass media campaign to educated people and allay fears and doubts.
  • Capacity-Building of enumerators (data collectors) through proper training.