The Editorial 24 Sept, 2022 - A Census is not about Counting Sheep

24 Sep, 2022

1. A Census is not about Counting Sheep.

Theme : Population & Associated Issues

Related Paper : GS - 1


  1. Context
  2. What is a Census ?
  3. Purpose of Census
  4. Importance of Census
  5. Census in India
  6. Socio-Economic and Caste Census(SECC)
  7. Difference between Census & SECC
  8. Impact of Delay of Census
  9. Issues Associated with Census
  10. Conclusion

Context :
As there is no official reassurance that India will not skip its decadal Census, we can declare that we have a case of the missing census.

What is a Census ?

  • Census is nothing but a process of collecting, compiling, analyzing, evaluating, publishing and disseminating statistical data regarding the population.
  • It covers demographic, social and economic data and is provided as of a particular date.
  • India conducted its first Census in 1872 in a non-synchronous way in different parts of the country.
  • Thereafter, India has held its decadal censuses regularly from 1881 to 2011.

Purpose of Census :

  • To collect the information for planning and formulation policies for Central and the State Governments.
  • The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation.
  • It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities.
  • The census data is widely used by National and International Agencies, scholars, and many more.

Importance of Census :

  • Provides most credible source of information: information on Demography (Population characteristics), Economic Activity, Literacy and Education, Housing & Household Amenities, Urbanization, Fertility and Mortality, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Language, Religion, Migration, Disability and many other socio-cultural and demographic data.
  • The delimitation/reservation of Constituencies
  • Welfare schemes: Identifying the actual beneficiaries, Census is the key to creating identity and affirming it over time .Census data enables neat, inter-temporal comparability.
  • Administration: Census is the basis for reviewing the country’s progress in the past decade, monitoring the ongoing Schemes of the Government.
  • Planning the future: It provides pathways for planning and resolving problems, and fixing deficiencies. Government goes through analysis over the census data and formulates policies for the future accordingly.

Census in India :

  • Census operations started in India long back during the period of the Maurya dynasty.
  • It was systematized during the years 1865 to 1872, though it has been conducted uninterruptedly from the year 1881 being a trustworthy resource of information.
  • India has held its decadal censuses regularly from 1881 to 2011, despite diseases, world wars, Partition and other instances of turmoil with only COVID-19 as an exception.
  • Census 2011 is the 15th National Census of the Country.
  • The Census established that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is coming down at a very rapid pace and is well on its way to stabilization.
  • The 2011 Census also dispelled the notion of divorce rate differentials between city and rural India. The urban divorce rate (0.89%) is almost equal to the rural rate (0.82%).

Socio-Economic and Caste Census :

  • The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) was conducted in 2011 for the first time since 1931.

  • It seeks to canvass every Indian family in rural and urban India, and ask about their:

    • Economic status, to allow Central/State authorities to come up with a range of indicators of deprivation which could be used by each authority to define a poor or deprived person.

    • Specific caste name, to allow the government to re-evaluate which caste groups are economically worse off and which are better off.

Difference between Census & SECC

  • Field of Coverage: The Census provides a portrait of the Indian population while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.

  • Confidentiality of Data: The Census data is considered confidential, whereas the data of SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to the people.

Impact of Delay of Census :


  • The National Food Security Act, 2013, says that 75% of the rural population and 50% of the rural population are entitled to receive subsidized food grains from the government under the targeted public distribution system (PDS).
  • Under the 2011 Census, India’s population was about 121 crore, hence PDS covered approximately 80 crore people.
  • If we apply the projected population of 137crore ,current delay in Census data would continue to deprive more than 10 crore people of subsidized food entitlements, with the biggest gaps in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with 2.8 crore and 1.8 crore projected exclusions respectively.


  • Although the Government’s intent to use SECC data but failed at budgetary allocation for the projected expansion.
  • Census data may not be used to calculate the beneficiaries of most schemes, but it is critical to policy planning, budgeting and administration.
  • A number of schemes need to use the disaggregated age and fertility indicators to assess effectiveness as demographics change over time.


  • From the COVID19 lockdowns it is realized that the Numbers, causes and patterns of migration, which could not be answered using outdated 2011 Census data.
  • The D-tables on migration from the 2011 Census were only released in 2019, so it’s outdated by the time it came out.
  • Apart from the One Nation, One Ration card scheme which now allows for portability of food subsidy entitlements, the migration data is actually not used too much in broader economic policy and planning.

Issues Associated with Census :

  • Linking of the Census with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) made large sections of the citizens insecure about their ability to provide the right paperwork.
  • Central government conducted socio-economic and caste census in 2011 after the last general census, but it did not finalize and publish the caste data.
  • Dysfunction and inability of State to hold latest general census: Due to COVID-19 state postponed the general census of 2021 , but it still has not initiated the process.
  • Asymmetrical relationship between government and citizen: Government is mining the data of citizens without census through various acts and regulations such as Criminal Procedure (Identification) Rules, 2022 , linking electoral rolls with Aadhaar etc.

Conclusion :
The census is vital and precious as it is a repository of complete data about the country which is gathered openly, voluntarily, and with the use of public money, making it a social good.