(GS1: Population and its related issues)
- The decennial Census exercise has been postponed till September 2023.
- The census provides information on size, distribution demographic, socio-economic and other characteristics of the country’s population.
- A systematic and modern population census in its present form was conducted non synchronously between 1865 and 1872 in different parts of the country.
- However, the first synchronous census in India was held in 1881.Since then, censuses have been undertaken uninterruptedly once every ten years.
- Since 1949 the census has been conducted by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
- India’s last census was carried out in 2011 when the country’s population stood at 121 crore. The Indian Census is one of the largest administrative exercises undertaken in the world.
- The Constitution talks about the use of Census data for the delimitation of constituencies and for determining the quantum of reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. However, it does not say what should be the periodicity of the census.
- The Census Act,1948 which predates the Constitution provides the legal background for several activities relating to the Census without mentioning anything about its periodicity.
- It says: “The Central Government may declare its intention of taking a census whenever it may consider it necessary or desirable to do so”.
Freezing of administration boundaries:
- Recently, it was reported that the freezing of administrative boundaries that precede the Census would be done with effect from July 1, 2023.
- Such freezing is necessary as State governments are in the habit of creating new districts and tehsils or reorganizing existing ones.
Implications of the delay:
- Accuracy of data: while Sample surveys can provide reliable data on social and demographic indicators they have limitations and cannot be used to find answers to how many villages have literacy rates below 75% or which tehsils have a low percentage of people getting protected water supply. Only the Census alone can provide population data for every village and town in the country.
Reservation of seats: The Census data are used to determine the number of seats to be reserved for SCs and STs in Parliament, State legislatures, local bodies, and government services.
- Other than the Census, there is no other source that can provide this information.
- A delay in the Census means that the data from the 2011 Census would continue to be used.
- In many towns and even panchayats that have seen rapid changes in the composition of their population over the last decade, this would mean that either too many or too few seats are being reserved.
Delimitation: Delimitation of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies would continue to be based on the 2001 Census till data from a Census after 2026 are published.
Changing population distribution:
- The rural-urban distribution of the population has been rapidly changing over the years. There is high population growth in urban areas. Some cities have been growing faster than others through in-migration.
Impact of the pandemic
- The pandemic resulted in deaths among adults and the aged relatively more than children.
- Its impact on age distribution in severely affected areas would be of interest as it would give an indirect estimate of the number of deaths.
- This would either validate or reject the various estimates of the number of deaths due to the pandemic.
The decision to collect data for the National Population Register by piggybacking on the Census operations was the most debated issue before the Census was postponed. Such controversies negatively impact the Census. Hence, it would be advisable to separate these two and disassociate the Census from a politically sensitive issue. This would help complete the Census as early as possible and maintain the reliability of data.