India’s decennial census exercise, which was to be completed in 2021, is now set to be delayed until after the Lok Sabha elections next year, The Hindu reported, citing details from an official order.

Last week, the Registrar General of India in the order said that the deadline for freezing administrative boundaries has been extended to January 1, 2024. A census can be carried out only three months after the freezing of boundaries of districts, tehsils, talukas and police stations, according to government norms.

The general elections are expected to be held in April, and therefore there is now no clarity on when the survey will be conducted.

Around 30 lakh government officials, including teachers, would be assigned as enumerators to gather information for the census. “The same workforce will be deployed for general election duty and as the Model Code of Conduct will be in place by then, the next Census will be held after the new government comes to power in 2024,” an unidentified official told The Hindu.

This is the third extension of the deadline to seal the administrative limits. Earlier, it was June 30, 2023, and before that, December 31, 2022.

The last census was held in 2011. In 2020, India was set to begin the first phase of the exercise – in which housing data is collected – but the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Unlike in the past when Covid-19 and vaccination drive were cited as reasons for not conducting the exercise, the latest directive by the Registrar General of India does not specify any reason.

Even before the pandemic and the subsequent delay, the 2021 census was bound to be a controversial exercise because the government plans to update the National Population Register alongside the census. The NPR is the first step to creating an all-India National Register of Citizens which would identify undocumented migrants residing in India.

Experts have said that the delay in conducting the census is hampering the disbursal of government schemes and programmes. It has also resulted in unreliable estimates from other surveys on consumption, health and employment that depend on census data to determine policy and welfare measures.

Also read:

  1. From CAA-NRC to caste conundrum, what is keeping the government from carrying out the Census?
  2. Why is India suddenly unable to conduct its regular census?