Census – Challenges & Importance – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • February 28, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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Census – Challenges & Importance


TOPIC: General Studies 2:

  • Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e governance- applications

In News: Amid the backdrop of protests and rallies on the new citizenship law, the National Sample Survey Office field officials have been attacked in some areas of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal for some of the ongoing NSS surveys.

Gathering mistrust over CAA and NRC, the house-listing operation and the updation of the National Population Register, set to begin in April for Census 2021, could run into rough weather. The survey system is already in “deep trouble” and given the increasing instances of such attacks, conducting household surveys with the Census as the frame would be “very tough” going ahead.

Census of India faces its stiffest challenge…

Conducted since 1872, few measures introduced by the British Raj have left as deep a mark as the Census of India. Yet, nearly 150 years after it was introduced, the Census faces its stiffest challenge, with fears being expressed that its enumerators could face violence on the ground during data collection this year.

Earlier this week, people in Jarcha village in Greater Noida, bordering Delhi, allegedly manhandled and held captive government employees conducting the Seventh Economic Census for the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Similar incidents have been reported from at least nine States. The 78th Round of the NSSO (National Sample Survey Office) Socio-Economic Survey on domestic tourism expenditure may reportedly be postponed, apparently because surveyors are facing hostility in the field.

The Culprit: Widespread panic over the National Register of Citizens (NRC)

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government has, on multiple occasions, promised to create an NRC for the entire country. The exercise, without any precedent globally, would require every Indian to prove that they are a bonafide citizen.

The fear within: The NRC would initially be generated using data collected from the National Population Register. Those marked as “doubtful citizens” could be asked to furnish documents to prove their citizenship, failing which they would be declared “illegal migrants”. With millions of Indians lacking vital documents related to birth, the fear of losing citizenship have taken deep roots within poor and marginalised communities.

Where does NPR meet Census?: NPR data would be collected door-to-door alongside the Census, even though the two databases do not overlap. The clubbing of NPR data collection with the Census, say experts, could undermine the Census. 

  • Following the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), India’s Muslim citizens have rebelled in large numbers against the CAA-NPR-NRC combination, fearful of being trapped in a discriminatory bureaucratic nightmare. 
  • The rallying cry of Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge (We will not provide documents) has also galvanized non-Muslims concerned about civil liberties. A number of state governments have expressed reservations about the NPR process.
  • Opponents of the NPR say that the additional questions on parents make the NPR a lethal weapon that will authorise low level administrative officers to mark individuals as doubtful citizens.
  • With many Indians threatening to boycott the NPR because of their opposition to the NRC, they might refuse to disclose information for the Census.

NPR And Census of India: The Distinction

The NPR and Census are not related in any way. The laws under which they are conducted are different and their uses are different. Census data informs government policy and is collated in anonymised form. The NPR, on the other hand, is the mother database for the NRC and is meant to single out “doubtful citizens”. 


NPR is a register of “usual residents” of the country which is prepared at several levels including local (village/sub-town), subdistrict, district, state, and national. It comes under provisions of the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003.

  • A usual resident in this context is defined as a person who has resided in a local area for the past six months or more or a person who intends to reside in that area for the next six months.
  • The objective of the NPR is to create a comprehensive identity database of every usual resident in the country which comprises demographics as well as biometric particulars.
  • No documents are required to be submitted for the NPR, however, provision of the Aadhaar number is mandatory for the registration.
  • The database would contain demographic details of every usual resident which includes resident name, relationship to head of household, father’s name, mother’s name, spouse’s name (if married), sex, date of birth, marital status, place of birth, nationality (as declared), present address of usual residence, duration of stay at present address, permanent residential address, occupation, and educational qualification.
  • Historically, the data for the NPR was first collected by the then Congress-led UPA government in 2010. In 2015, the register was updated and the biometrics collected through Aadhaar was linked to the NPR.
  • The NPR exercise which is to be carried out every 10 years, is scheduled to be conducted between April and September 2020 in all states and Union Territories(UTs), except Assam.

Whereas Census of India

  • Census of India, which is also a once-in-ten-years exercise, collects information about all residents of India.
  • It is considered to be the single largest source of a number of statistical information on different characteristics of the people of the country conducted on the basis of the Census Act, 1948.
  • The Census data aims to collect information to give an overall picture of the status of residents of India and the overall population trends.
  • This data is not about individuals but rather would serve as the basis for reviewing the country’s progress in the past decade, analysing the ongoing government schemes and planning future government actions.
  • The census provides detailed information on several aspects that includes demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, urbanization, fertility, mortality, language, religion, and migration, etc.
  • Information is also collected on sources of potable water, energy, irrigation, method of farming, and houses by the enumerators.

However, the Union government has decreed that data for both the Census and NPR will being collected simultaneously from each household by the same enumerator. And many would not be able to differentiate between them. This has the potential to put the exercise of conducting Census in danger.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Census in India doesn’t reveal the quality of its people – it only reveals the quantity. Critically comment.

Prelims oriented:

1872: Census was first conducted – During Lord Mayo’s Tenure

1881: Creation of Census department

1941: Department re-named as Registrar General of India 

1949: Census dept. went under Ministry of Home affairs administrative control

2011: Caste based census conducted for the first time on the recommendation of Mandal Commission

2021: Paperless Census will be conducted for the first time – In a first, Census India-2021 will move away from the traditional pen and paper and will be conducted through a mobile phone

Section 15 of the Census Act prohibits any data collected by Census officials from being made public.

  • Prohibition against the use of any data collected under the Census Act, for any civil or criminal proceedings
  • The data collected under the Census Act is privileged and is meant to be used only for statistical compilation for the purposes of governanc

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