Census of India: Why is government delaying 2021 Census?

4 Oct 2023  Read 1361 Views

India is a country known for its crowded cities, rich cultures, and diverse people. To keep tabs on its people, they have this thing called a Census. Therefore, every ten years, they count everyone living in the country. Imagine it as taking a big family photo, but with data. However in 2021, something unusual happened which made India pause its Census tradition and since then, the Census hasn’t been conducted yet.

In this blog, let’s delve into the journey of India's 2021 Census. We'll find out why it's so important and how it helps India plan for its future. 

What is a Census?

Consider India's census as a treasure of facts about its people conducted every 10 years. It includes details about education, homes, etc. From literacy to language, religion to disability, it comprises everything. This census isn't just about big numbers; it goes down to the smallest communities, like villages and towns, to gather the most important data about the citizens of our country. 

Why is government delaying Census 2021?

Census 2021 has now been postponed more than once. The reason behind it was initially the pandemic, however it is shocking that at least three countries that also saw the same & severe COVID pandemic—the UK, China, and the US have since completed their census count and India is still lagging behind.

But why so?

Consider an example in this situation, it’s like planning a big event for which you are very excited, but the organizers keep changing the date. Wouldn’t you get frustrated? 

This is what happened with India's census. First, they said it would start in 2023, then it got pushed to 2024. It's like waiting for a train that never arrives. With elections being conducted in so many states in 2023, it seems pretty difficult that Census will be conducted this year as well.

Some people think it might be a tricky move. Maybe the government doesn't want to count certain groups of people or wants to wait until after the elections. 

There are rumors about religious growth rates and fertility rates that might not match what some politicians are claiming. So, why the wait? There’s no clear answer to this though.

You see, back in March 2019, the government had big plans to count everyone in the country, but then the COVID-19 showed up, which delayed the Census. 

In July 2022, something about population projections based on the 2011 census data popped up. They even talked about using fancy mobile devices alongside pen and paper for data collection. 

Was Caste- based Census possible?

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in charge, the BJP refused to conduct the same. But in 2018, the Narendra Modi government changed its tune and promised an OBC (Other Backward Classes) census before the 2019 elections. But to our surprise, later, they told the top court that counting castes is too tough. They said, "We've been skipping caste counts since 1951, except for SCs and STs."

  • In 1950, the Indian Constitution provided for the reservation of seats in legislatures and government jobs for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). 

  • However, it did not include a similar provision for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). 

  • Recognizing the need for accurate data on OBCs, the government initiated efforts to enumerate OBCs, but this has not been consistently implemented.

  • The last caste census was conducted in 1931. All caste data were projected on its basis. 

  • It became the basis for quota caps under the Mandal formula. Caste data were also collected for the 2011 census but the data were never made public.

History of Census

  • Even in 800-600 BC, our ancestors were keeping tabs on people. They had it all figured out. 'Arthashastra' by 'Kautilya' in the 3rd century BC talks about collecting population data. Then, when the British came, they started counting in 1800 with folks like James Prinsep and Henry Walter doing the numbers in places like Allahabad and Dhaka

  • First Census (1881):

In 1881, this got really serious with a nationwide census, and since then, we've been counting every 10 years. Hence, the Census of 1881 which was undertaken by W.C. Plowden, Census Commissioner of India was a great step towards a modern- day census. Then in post- Independence phase in 1947, the census continued to be conducted regularly, as deliberated by our Indian Constitution.

  • Second Census (1891):

Just like in 1881, they did the census in almost the same way. They wanted to count everyone, even in places like Burma, Kashmir, and Sikkim. 

  • Third Census (1901):

Balochistan, Rajputana, Andaman Nicobar, Burma, Punjab and remote areas of Kashmir were also included in this Census.

  • Fifth Census (1921):

Compare a rollercoaster ride with India's population. It kept going up until 1921 when it suddenly went down by 0.31 due to the big flu pandemic in 1918 which took lots of lives. Before and after 1921, the population kept on growing. That's why they call 1921 "The Great Divide" year in India's population story when things took an unexpected turn.

  • Eleventh Census (1971):

After Indian independence, it was the second Census. It added a question for information on fertility for currently married women.

  • Thirteenth Census (1991):

It was the fifth Census of independent India. In 1981, they counted children aged 4 and older as literate. However, later like in 2021, they changed the rule. Now, even kids aged 7 and above are considered literate. 

  • Fourteenth Census (2001):

When the census happened, technology took a big leap forward. They used fancy high-speed scanners to quickly read all the papers. And guess what? They had this clever thing called Intelligent Character Reading (ICR) that could understand even handwriting. Think of it as the smarter, more advanced version of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which can only read printed letters. So, the census got a tech upgrade, making it faster and smarter than ever!

  • Fifteenth Census (2011):

In this Census, major fall in case of EAG States (Empowered action group states: UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan & Orissa) was noticed for the first time.

Key point on Census 2021

  • Sixteenth Census (2021):

Census 2021 had to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whenever conducted, it will be the first-ever digital census which we can even fill out ourselves. But here's the exciting part, this time, they will not just be asking about "male" and "female." They will be making history by collecting info about households led by someone from the Transgender Community and everyone living in those families. 


Census, in short, no doubt helps us understand how our society is changing. This counting tradition goes way back, starting officially in 1881 and happening every 10 years. However, the last one in 2021 was delayed because of COVID-19, and it's going digital whenever conducted. With the boundary deadline set for June 30th, 2023 (date has already passed), and general elections in 2024, the census is likely to happen only in late 2024 now.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 269 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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