Decennial census put off till September to freeze boundaries

The general elections are expected to be held in March-April 2024 and the completion of both the phases of census will take at least 11 months, even if done at accelerated pace from October, there by ruling out the possibility of census happening anytime in 2023 and early 2024.

Updated - January 06, 2023 08:28 am IST

Published - January 05, 2023 10:19 pm IST - New Delhi

A census enumerator at work. File

A census enumerator at work. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The decennial census exercise has been postponed till September, at least, as the government informed States that the date of freezing of administrative boundaries has been extended till June 30.

As per norms, census can be conducted only three months after freezing of boundary limits of administrative units such as districts, sub-districts, tehsils, talukas and police stations. The finalisation of boundaries of administrative units entails covering all jurisdictional changes between two consecutive censuses. The last census was held in 2011.

Explained | Impact of delay in Census

The general elections are expected to be held in March-April 2024 and the completion of both the phases of census will take at least 11 months, even if done at accelerated pace from October, there by ruling out the possibility of census happening anytime in 2023 and early 2024. Census before the 2024 general elections is possible if the rules are tweaked and a shorter process is introduced.

Unlike in the past, when COVID-19 and vaccination drive were cited as reasons for not conducting census, the January 2 letter by the office of the Registrar General of India (RGI) does not specify any reason. It also does not refer to the exercise as “Census 2021”, the year in which the population enumeration was supposed to be concluded, it instead says, “ensuing Census”.

The letter sent by Sanjay, Additional RGI, to chief secretaries of States while referring to a June 14, 2022 communication to extend the date of freezing of boundaries up to December 31 the same year, said, “It has now been decided by the competent authority to further extend the date of freezing of boundaries. The boundaries of the administrative units for the ensuing census will now be frozen with effect from 01-07-2023.”

The letter accessed by The Hindu said the census directorates are “requested to kindly issue necessary instructions to all concerned in the State/Union Territory to give effect to the changes in administrative boundaries, if any, latest by 30.06.2023 and send the copies of notifications on jurisdictional changes to concerned Directorate of Census Operations in the State/Union Territory with endorsement to this office.”

Hit by pandemic

The first phase of Census 2021 - the House listing and Housing Census along with updating the National Population Register (NPR) were scheduled to be held from April-September 2020 but were postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second phase and the main phase of the decennial census exercise — the population enumeration — were to be concluded by March 5, 2021.

According to provisional data compiled by the RGI till June 2021, the total number of districts in the country have gone up from 640 in 2011 to 736 presently.

The sub-districts are up from 5,925 to 6,754, statutory towns have increased from 4,041 to 4,657, census towns from 3,892 to 5,050 and villages have decreased from 6,40,934 in 2011 to 6,39,083 in 2021.

The freeze on administrative boundaries was effective from January 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Later an RGI order said that since the Census 2021 had been postponed until further orders and several requests were received from States for permission to create new units, the date of freezing of boundaries was first extended till December 31, 2020.

It was extended again till December 31, 2021, then June 30, 2022 and further again to December 31, 2022.

On December 14, 2022, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai informed the Rajya Sabha that the intent of the government for conducting Census 2021 was notified in the Gazette of India on March 28, 2019. “Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the Census 2021 and the related field activities have been postponed until further orders,” the Minister said.

The upcoming census is to be held for the first time both in digital mode and through paper schedules (questionnaire/forms).

The Minister said mobile and web applications for collection of data and a portal (CMMS) for management and monitoring of various census-related activities had been developed at a cost of ₹24.84 crore so far.

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