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Explainer: What happens before, during & after the Census exercise?


The Census exercise is not just about the data that is released after the analysis. There is a huge planning exercise that is involved. Here is an explainer about what happens before, during & after the Census exercise.


India’s decennial population census is one of the largest administrative activity in the world. Collecting socio-economic information with various parameters for a population of 130+ crores requires extensive planning and execution.  Factly has in an earlier story highlighted the evolution of the census in India over the years and the premise for upcoming 2021 census. In this explainer, we focus on the processes involved in the planning and execution of the census exercise.

Preparatory work forms the most critical and extensive phase of census activity

The population census activity involves multiple activities which are carried on in sequential phases as listed in the below diagram.

Census exercise_image

The Preparatory Phase

The first phase of the census activity is the Preparatory phase where all the planning and groundwork for the ensuing enumeration activity takes place. There are multiple activities involved in this phase , whose goal is to ensure that everything is in place by the time the census enumeration activity begins on the ground.

a. Legislation

The census activity is backed by legislation as per Census of India Act, 1948. The activities are kick-started by the notification issued by the Central government in accordance section 3 in the Census Act. Government of India has released the notification for Census for 2021, which has set in motion the census activity. The law makes it obligatory on the part of citizens to answer the questions truthfully.

b. Universal Coverage of Area & Identification of House holds

One of the major objectives of any population census exercise is to ensure that every area is covered and also does not overlap. Hence, one the key preparatory activity involves locating every local area and to ensure that resources are in place to cover the whole area for enumeration.

While the focus of a population census is to enumerate every individual, a household is considered as the operational unit for enumeration. A household is  referred to as a group of persons living together. An entire house can be occupied by a single household or can be shared by multiple households.  A delimitation of the territory would be undertaken to account for every single household.  

House -numbering is a critical activity in the build-up to the census activity. A distinct House-listing activity is taken up prior to the census. This activity would take place during the latter half of 2020.

c. Determining territorial units

The territorial units for which the primary census data needs to be presented is finalised. These territorial units include – villages, towns, blocks, tehsils, talukas, districts etc. Determining these territorial blocks would help in developing the census organization and to demarcate the jurisdiction of the hierarchy involved in the census activity.

Any delimitation or changes to the territories in respect to the creation of new villages, towns or districts etc. are identified in the activity. A circular for this activity for ‘Census 2021’ has already been issued.

Demarcation of rural and Urban areas, formation of Urban Agglomerations, demarcating villages etc. are part of the preparatory activity.  Location codes are identified for each of the villages, talukas, districts and urban areas which helps in easy enumeration as well as analysis.

d. Preparing Maps

After the finalization of the territorial unit, maps are prepared to help in demarcating the boundaries including that of the country, states, districts, talukas, cities and villages. These maps would help the census officers to identify their jurisdiction limits. The Map division of ORGI (Office of Registrar General of India) takes up this activity. This activity for 2021 census has  begun with a circular issued on 10 May , 2019. The territorial boundaries need to be frozen prior to the initiation of enumeration.

e. Census organization and personnel

Population census is handled by Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner India, which is under the aegis of the Home Ministry. Census Commissioner of India heads the operation. Vivek Joshi has been recently appointed as the Census Commissioner. The Census of India Act , 1948 has provisions for the appointment of various officers at different levels in view of the territorial jurisdiction as well as in line with the responsibilities. In-charge officers, supervisors and enumerators are also appointed specifically for the purpose of census activity. 

Census exercise_appointment of census officer

There are 33 directorates of Census Operation in India, which work under the aegis of Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner.

Census exercise_Census Organization of India

Around 33 lakh teachers are expected to take up the responsibility of enumerators for the activity.

f. Census Schedules

After due consultation with various departments and stakeholders, a questionnaire is developed which is used by the enumerators to seek information from the households. Printing and distribution of the census schedules used to be a major activity in earlier census, which is planned to be excluded with the implementation of mobile application for this census. While the questionnaire to be used for 2021 census is yet to be finalised, a sample questionnaire was used as part of the pre-test census.  

g. Training

Training the enumerators and the officers at different levels is important for the successful conduct of the census activity. There could be personnel who have already participated in the  earlier census activity as well as new persons , irrespective of which trainings are conducted to make everyone aware of the new questionnaire and new procedures to be followed. With the implementation of digitalization, training presumes greater importance for the upcoming census.

h. Publicity

Active participation of the entire population being enumerated play an important role in ensuring that the data collected is accurate and complete. Publicity campaigns to increase the awareness are undertaken.

Census exercise_Census Organization of India steps

Digitalization being introduced for enumeration

All the preparatory work which is being done is to aid the enumeration activity. As announced by Home Minister earlier, digitization would be introduced in 2021 census. The procedures involved in enumeration in view of the new technology being used, are yet to be finalised by Office of Registrar General of India.

‘Canvasser’ method has been in practice for enumeration wherein the enumerator visits each household to record the answer in the schedule/App. There is a reference date which is set based on which the enumerator records the information. The reference date for 2021 census is 01 March, 2021.

Each enumerator has the jurisdiction determined. All the households allotted for the specific enumerator need to be completed and the information needs to submitted to the respective supervisor who monitors the activity under the respective jurisdiction. The hierarchy continues with the central directorate supervising the whole enumeration activity.  The digitization of enumeration is expected to ease the activity, especially relating to the physical maintenance of the census schedules.

Data Processing and analysis of data is done prior to the release of the census data.

All the efforts put in the preparation for census and the enumeration would come to nought if the data thus collected is not processed and analysed. There are various tables which are prepared as part of the census. The enumeration data which is collected is tabulated into these specific tables.

Until 2011 Census, physical schedules were used to collect the information, which was then entered into a digital format for the data to be analysed and sorted into different tables.

Census exercise_Data processing and analysis

The digital collection of the data is expected to reduce the time taken to process, analyse and publish the census data. For the 2011 census, it took nearly 7 years for few of the datasets to be released to the public.

The Census report is prepared and published highlighting key information along with their observation about the various trends in the population.

Census exercise_Census Report of India

Data about various types of information – Economic, Socio-cultural, fertility, migration etc. are published as different tables for easier understanding and analysis.

Census exercise_Data about various types of information

Mammoth activity that needs planned and coordinated effort

As highlighted earlier, undertaking the census for 130+ crore population in a country as diverse as India with its varied physical and cultural landscape is a humongous activity. It has to be appreciated that no decennial census has been missed since the inception , which is a reflection of the effective planning and execution of the government machinery, especially with Office of Registrar General of India, who plan and co-ordinate the whole effort.

Even though the enumeration would be digitized and expected to reduce the effort, the preparation activity involved would still be very important and becomes more complex as we grow as a nation.


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HR professional, now focused on contributing towards a positive change in the society. Passionate reader. Loves writing and photography and to narrate stories through words and pictures.