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India’s delayed census

  • Published
    30th Sep, 2023

The 128th Constitutional amendment — also called the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam that provides 33 per cent reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State legislative Assemblies has brought the focus back on India’s delayed census.

  • The history of the census began with 1800 when England had begun its Census.
  • In its continuation, a census was conducted in Allahabad (1824) and in Banaras (1827-28) by James Prinsep.
  • The first complete census of an Indian city was conducted in 1830 by Henry Walter in Dacca (now Dhaka).
  • The Second Census was conducted in 1836-37 by Fort St. George.
  • In 1849, the Government of India ordered the local governments to conduct quinquennial (five-yearly) returns of population.
  • First Non-synchronous Census: It was conducted in India in 1872 during the reign of Governor-General Lord Mayo.
  • First Synchronous Census: The first synchronous census was taken under British rule on February 17, 1881, by W.C. Plowden (Census Commissioner of India).
  • Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years.

The implementation of the women's quota is tied to the delimitation exercise, which in turn will be based on the first census after 2026.

  • Since 2021 Census delayed due to the pandemic there is no progress yet in the matter.

What is census?

  • Population Census is the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing and 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 also provides the trends in population characteristics.

The Indian Census is one of the largest administrative exercises undertaken in the world.

Nodal Ministry:

  • The decennial Census is conducted by the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs.
  • Until 1951, the Census Organisation was set up on an ad-hoc basis for each Census.

Why a census is necessary?

  • Source of Information: Researchers and Demographers use census data to analyze growth and trends of population and make projections.
  • Good Governance: The data collected through the census is used for administration, planning and policy making as well as management and evaluation of various programmes by the Government.
  • Demarcation: Census data is also used for demarcation of constituencies and allocation of representation to Parliament, State legislative assemblies and the local bodies.
  • Better Access for Businesses: The census data is also important for business houses and industries for strengthening and planning their business for penetration into areas, which had hitherto remained, uncovered.
  • Giving Grants: Finance Commission provides grants to the states on the basis of population figures available from the Census data.

Legal/Constitutional Backing:

  • Census is conducted under the provisions of the Census Act, 1948.
  • The bill for this Act was piloted by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister of India.
  • The population census is a Union subject under Article 246 of India Constitution.
  • It is listed at serial number 69 of the seventh schedule of the constitution.

President and CEO of Centre for Policy Research, points out that there are huge standardisation issues with MIS data across states.

What is the present scenario of using data for Policy making?

  • Every government department has an MIS system, each one follows its own set of data standards, definitions etc. which comparability becomes a huge problem.
  • Whereas in the census, the data is comparable across the country and over time.

How delayed data collections affect people?

  • Data and the statistical system: Census is crucial for the country's statistical system because surveys and samples rely on it to represent the population accurately.
  • Delays in census can distort the picture and make survey data less reliable, affecting the quality of statistical information.
  • Lack of adequate data for tax collection: Population projections rely on fertility and mortality data but often lack reliable migration data, leading to challenges in policymaking regarding housing and tax distribution.
  • Most of India's migration occurs within states and districts, not between countries, which has significant policy implications.
  • Affecting elderly population: Lack of timely census data affects mortality statistics, hindering the ability to address aging-related challenges and formulate accurate policies like old-age pension requirements.
  • Affecting Private sector: The private sector, including industries like insurance, heavily relies on census data for various purposes, including market studies.
  • Census is considered a public good and its absence results in more extensive and expensive market surveys by private firms.
  • Census serves as a benchmark for private surveys, ensuring rigorously collected and large-scale data in a diverse country like India.

Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC)

  • 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.
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