A call for improving civil registration systems

  • IASbaba
  • August 11, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 

A call for improving civil registration systems

Context: The Hindu Newspaper has come out with estimates of excess deaths based on Civil Registration System (CRS) data for many States which showed that the death toll was several times higher than the official death toll.

  • A working paper for the Center for Global Development, co-authored by former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, also states that excess deaths during the pandemic period could be as high as 49 lakh in India as against the 4.14 lakh reported in government data.
  • Excess deaths’ are defined as the difference between the observed number of deaths in specific time periods and the expected number of deaths in the same time periods.

Organisational structure of the administrative machinery that is responsible for recording deaths and bring out reports

  • While the Registrar General, India, is the head of the national organisation tasked with the registration of births and deaths, the actual work is carried out by the State and Union Territory (UT) administrations. 
  • The heads of the State organisations are called Chief Registrars.
  • These officers come from the Health Department in 21 States/UTs and the Department of Planning, Economics and Statistics in 13 States/UTs. In two States/ UTs, they are from the Panchayat/Local Administration Departments.
  • We also have Secretaries to the State government functioning as Chief Registrars in a few States. 
  • The multiplicity of agencies responsible for the registration of births and deaths is replicated at the district and lower levels with municipalities and panchayats playing a major role in registration. 
  • Coordination of Multiple stakeholders are involved – Hospitals, Police & individuals – in registration process. 


  • Technology enables the States to release data on the number of deaths registered on a monthly, weekly or daily basis. However, it is shameful that governments don’t leverage the advancements in technology in pro-actively publishing data.
  • Multiplicity of agencies responsible for the registration of births and deaths impedes effective oversight. 
  • The traditional bureaucratic practice to function within departmental silos leads to poor coordination that brings down efficiency of registration process.
  • The State governments have not given adequate attention to the CRS. This has resulted in an inadequate budget for carrying out its regular activities including processing of the data.
  • Apart from the problem that reports are overdue, they do not contain all the tables that are prescribed even under our own Rules.
  • Data include deaths that took place in previous years but are registered in the years that the report is published. This distorts the accuracy of the report. 

Way Ahead

  • For every country, it’s important to capture excess mortality which is the only way to prepare the health system for future shocks & to prevent further deaths.
  • There is a need to invest in strong civil registration and vital statistics, so policies can be adjusted based on real data.
  • Central and State governments must announce a time-bound commitment to achieve 100% registration of deaths in the country.
  • There is a need for data that fully meets quality standards. 

Connecting the dots:

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