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'Census Can't Happen Before 2024'

Last updated on: February 09, 2023 09:28 IST

'The general elections in May 2024 may not have any impact on the Census.'

Kindly note the photograph has only been posted for representational purposes. Photograph: Niharika Kulkarni/Reuters

Before Independence, Censuses were periodically conducted from 1865-1941.

After Independence, the first Census was conducted in 1951 under the 1948 Census Act, which interestingly does not bind the Union government to conduct the Census with a specified periodicity.

Though it is a decennial exercise, after the last census in 2011, India has not had a Census.

The Union government informed Parliament in April 2022 that the 2021 Census was postponed due to the pandemic.

The Registrar General of India announced this month that the deadline for freezing administrative boundaries had been extended to June 30 this year which means the Census activities will be pushed beyond September 2023.

This is for the first time in more than 150 years that there is going to be such a gap between two Censuses.

What kind of impact will this have on administration, welfare schemes and other important data?

"Doing a Census once in every 5 years is difficult as it is a huge administrative exercise," K Narayanan Unni, who served as Deputy Registrar General and was a member of the Advisory Committee for Census 2011 and 2021, tells's Shobha Warrier in the first of a two-part interview:


The Census has been postponed again.

First of all, there has been some misunderstanding in the news reports that have come out.

The delay in the freezing of administrative boundaries does not necessarily imply a postponement of the Census.

For every census, normally the 'house-listing' operations start in April, and we used to freeze the administrative boundaries 2-3 months before that.

It means, we ask the states not to create anymore new districts, tehsils, etc.

For the 2021 Census, the administrative boundaries freezing was to happen in January 2020 and the house-listing operations were to start in April 2020.

What exactly is house-listing operations? You said, it takes one year for it to complete...

The problem with the Indian Census is that we do not have the list of houses or households which is very necessary to ensure that every household is covered.

So, what we do is, we make a list of all the houses and households all over the country.

But this has not been a simultaneous operation all over the country.

It may not be convenient to do the operation at the same time in every state.

Since it is a staggered process, it takes close to one year to finish house listing and other pre-Census activities

I feel if the government decides, this period can be compressed.

So, regarding the postponement of the Census, even though the freezing of administrative boundaries has been delayed by another six months, it is not necessary that the Census will be postponed by that much period.

Why is it that house listing is not done simultaneously in all the states? If it is done that way, won't the process be over faster?

Frankly, I do not know. It has been done that way historically. Every state does it according to their convenience.

Anyway, if they synchronise the house-listing, the Census can take place in 2024.

In any case, the earliest the Census can take place is 2024. It cannot happen before that.

The general elections are also going to happen in 2024...

That is in May 2024. It may not have any impact on the Census as the enumeration would be over by the first week of March

Will it have an impact on the delimitation of constituencies?

No, the delimitation of constituencies for the assembly and parliamentary elections was frozen on the basis of the 2001 Census till the first Census to be taken after 2026.

It means, any Census taken in 2027 or later will be the basis for delimitation. This Constitutional amendment came in 2002.

But it doesn't mean that any delay in the Census will not affect elections at the lower levels.

For example, in the municipal corporations, municipality or panchayat election.

If you want to do any delimitation of constituencies, it can be based only on the 2011 data as we do not have any further data.

Not just delimitation, some of the cities are growing, like the way Bangalore is expanding.

Many new towns are coming up. How many seats will be required in the new towns or how many new seats have to be created for newly extended areas of the cities?

All this can be done on the basis of the population count. But then the data is not available.

Also, how many seats have to be reserved for SC/ST, etc when population composition in a town has changed due to migration.

If we use 2011 data, either too few or too many seats would be reserved. That will have a serious impact.

IMAGE: A Census official collects details of a family during the first phase of Census 2011 at a village near Siliguri. Photograph: PTI Photo

When the changes taking place in developing countries like India is huge in the last decade, is not the 10 year gap between Censuses too long?
Developed countries like Japan do it every 5 years. Of course, it is a small country...

When the Census operations started more than a century back, there was no wide disparity in growth like you see today in some pockets.

The huge growth of 45% in Bangalore or 10% growth in Mumbai and Delhi or the negative growth rate in Kolkata started in the last few of decades.

This sort of high growth rate in some areas is unprecedented.

It has not happened when the ten-year period was decided on.

That could be the reason why there is this 10-year gap between earlier Censuses.

Doing a Census once in every 5 years also is difficult as it is a huge administrative exercise.

Even in the 2001 Census, the technology used was very limited, perhaps only in data processing.

If you do a Census and you cannot process it within a reasonable amount of time, it will be a wasteful exercise.

Today, with the way technology has advanced, is it not possible?

Now, it is possible to some extent. The question is, is it really needed? If there are certain areas which need an updated population, a Census can be done there alone.

And it is not necessary that the Census has to be done in all the areas.

If the government feels it is necessary to have a Census in some area, legally there is nothing that prevents the government from taking such a decision.

If they feel urbanisation or population explosion is taking place in one area, they can do a Census there.

But the decision has to be taken by the central government. Of course, there is no precedent.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/