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Context: The 2021 Census of India has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when it is conducted, it will mark a historic milestone in the history of census-taking in India. For the first time, the census will use a mobile app to collect data from the field. This will enable faster and more accurate data entry and transmission, as well as reduce the use of paper and manual labour.


  • The mobile app will also allow citizens, who have updated the National Population Register (NPR), to self-enumerate on a secured web portal.
    • The NPR is a comprehensive database of every usual resident in the country.
    • The self-enumeration option will give citizens the convenience and flexibility to fill their details online, without having to wait for the visit of an enumerator.
  • The census will also collect data in 16 languages, making it more accessible and inclusive for the diverse population of India.
  • The census will cover various aspects of the demographic, social, economic and cultural characteristics of the people, such as age, sex, marital status, literacy, education, occupation, religion, language, disability, migration and housing.

Census In India

  • India has a long and proud tradition of conducting a national census every 10 years since 1881.
  • The census is a vital source of primary, authentic and granular data that inform various aspects of planning, administration, policy-making and research in the country.
    • The census captures demographic, social and economic indicators such as population, households, age, literacy, fertility, migration, employment and income.

2021 Census postponed

  • The 2021 census has been delayed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. This is the first time in India's history that the census exercise has not been completed on time.
  • The government has not announced any clear timeline or roadmap for conducting the census, which was supposed to be done in two phases: counting of houses and dwellings, and enumeration of population.
  • The delay in conducting the census has serious and wide-ranging consequences for India's development and governance. Some of the potential impacts are:
  1. Loss of reliable and updated data
    • Loss of reliable and updated data on India's population and its characteristics. The last census was done in 2011, and since then India's population has grown by an estimated 15% to over 1.4 billion people.
    • The current population estimates are based on projections that may not reflect the actual ground realities. For example, the UN Population Fund recently reported that India overtake China as the world's most populous country.
  1. Distortion of various social and economic indicators
    • Distortion of various social and economic indicators that are based on census data. For instance, the allocation of funds, seats and resources under various schemes and programmes depends on the population figures of states, districts and local bodies.
    • The delay in the census will affect the fair distribution of these benefits among different regions and groups. Similarly, the delimitation of constituencies for Parliament and state assemblies is also based on census data.
    • The postponement of the census will hamper the process of ensuring adequate representation for different sections of society.
  1. Difficulty in monitoring and evaluating the progress
    • Difficulty in monitoring and evaluating the progress and impact of various developmental initiatives and policies.
    • The census data provides a baseline and a benchmark for measuring the outcomes and outputs of various interventions and reforms undertaken by the government and other stakeholders.
    • Without updated census data, it will be hard to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of these efforts and identify the gaps and challenges that need to be addressed.
  1. Loss of credibility and reputation of India's statistical system
    • Loss of credibility and reputation of India's statistical system and institutions.
    • The census is one of the most important and prestigious statistical exercises conducted by India, which showcases its capacity and commitment to producing high-quality data that meets international standards.
    • The delay in the census will erode the trust and confidence of both domestic and foreign users and consumers of India's data, who rely on it for various purposes such as research, analysis, decision-making and advocacy.

The government should take urgent steps to resume and expedite the census exercise as soon as possible, keeping in mind the health and safety protocols amid the pandemic. The census is not just about counting people, but about understanding their needs, aspirations, challenges and opportunities. It is a constitutional obligation as well as a national duty to ensure that every citizen is counted and accounted for.

Census data

  • Census data are essential for understanding the characteristics and needs of a population.
  • They provide information on various aspects of people's lives, such as age, sex, education, occupation, income, health, housing, and more. Census data
  • They are used by governments, researchers, businesses, and civil society organizations for planning, policymaking, and resource allocation.
  • They can also help identify and address social and economic inequalities, monitor progress towards development goals, and protect human rights.

Significance of Census Data for Governments

  • Governments rely on census data to design and implement policies and programs that affect the well-being of their citizens.
  • Allocate funds and resources to different regions and groups based on their population size and needs.
  • Draw electoral boundaries and ensure fair representation of different communities.
  • Provide public services such as education, health care, transportation, and social security.
  • Assess the impact of natural disasters, conflicts, migration, and urbanization on population dynamics.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of existing policies and programs.

Significance of Census Data for Researchers

  • Researchers use census data to conduct scientific studies and analyses that inform decision-making and public debate.
  • Identify trends and patterns in population growth, distribution, and composition.
  • Measure and compare social and economic indicators across time and space.
  • Understand the causes and consequences of demographic changes.
  • Test hypotheses and theories about human behaviour and society.
  • Develop models and projections of future scenarios.

Significance of Census Data for Businesses

  • Businesses use census data to identify market opportunities and risks, as well as to optimize their operations and strategies.
  • Estimate the size and characteristics of potential customers and competitors.
  • Segment and target markets based on demographic and socioeconomic factors.
  • Locate and expand their facilities, outlets, and distribution networks.
  • Develop new products and services that meet the needs and preferences of different groups.
  • Assess the demand and supply of labour and skills.

Significance of Census Data for civil society organizations

  • Civil society organizations use census data to advocate for the rights and interests of various groups and causes.
  • Raise awareness and mobilize support for social issues such as poverty, gender equality, health, education, environment, etc.
  • Monitor and evaluate the implementation of national and international commitments and agreements.
  • Hold governments accountable for their actions and obligations.
  • Empower marginalized and vulnerable groups to claim their rights and participate in decision-making.
  • Promote social justice and inclusion.

Challenges and Way Forward of census data in the 21st Century

  • The world is changing rapidly due to technological innovations, globalization, environmental changes, demographic transitions, etc.
  • These changes pose new challenges and opportunities for census data collection, dissemination, analysis, and use.


  • Ensuring the quality, accuracy, timeliness, completeness, comparability, and confidentiality of census data.
  • Adapting to new methods and sources of data collection such as online surveys, mobile devices, satellite imagery, administrative records etc.
  • Balancing the costs and benefits of conducting censuses in terms of financial resources human resources time etc.
  • Addressing the ethical legal social political cultural issues related to census data such as privacy consent ownership bias discrimination etc.
  • Enhancing the awareness accessibility usability relevance of census data among different users.

Way Forward

  • Leveraging new technology tools platforms to improve census data collection dissemination analysis use such as artificial intelligence big data cloud computing geospatial information systems etc.
  • Integrating census data with other types of data such as surveys census administrative records etc. to create richer more comprehensive more granular more dynamic datasets.
  • Expanding the scope coverage content depth of census data to capture new emerging dimensions of the population such as migration diversity disability etc.
  • Engaging with a wider range of stakeholders partners collaborators to co-produce co-disseminate co-analyze co-use census data such as civil society organizations private sector media academia etc.
  • Innovating new ways of communicating and visualizing storytelling with census data to make them more appealing understandable actionable for different audiences


  • The census data is crucial for planning and policy-making at various levels of government and civil society. It provides a snapshot of the population and its characteristics at a given point in time. It also helps in monitoring the progress and impact of various schemes and programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of the people.

Must Read Articles:

Census: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/census-22

All About Census in India: https://www.iasgyan.in/blogs/all-about-census-in-india

National Population Register (NPR): https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/civil-registration-system-and-national-population-register

State of World Population Report: https://www.iasgyan.in/daily-current-affairs/state-of-world-population-report


Q. How can census data help us understand the social and economic realities of India? What are the main challenges and opportunities for conducting a reliable and comprehensive census in a country with such diversity and complexity? What are the best practices and innovations that can enhance the quality and utility of census data for policymaking and planning?