Context: The nationwide lockdown due to the Coronavirus crisis has led to postponing of key government data gathering exercises.


Postponement of the Census: Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the first phase of Census 2021 and updating of NPR, various related field activities have been postponed.

  • Since the census and NPR exercise require the enumerators to visit every household and meet people, such exercise is not possible to carry out due to the prevailing situation.

About Census

  • Population Census is the total process of collecting, compiling, analyzing or otherwise disseminating demographic, economic and social data pertaining, at a specific time, of all persons in a country or a well-defined part of a country.
  • It was planned to be conducted in two phases:
    • House listing and Housing Census - April to September, 2020 and
    • Population Enumeration - 9th February to 28th February, 2021.
  • Census is an exercise carried out under the Census Act, 1948. Census data is based on self-declaration made by the persons without verification.

About National Population Register

  • The Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner describes NPR as "a register of usual residents of the country."
  • A usual resident for the purposes of NPR is a person who has resided in a place for six months or more, and intends to reside there for another six months or more.
  • Better targeting and delivery of benefits and services under the government was one of the early objectives of the NPR. 
  • The updating of NPR was also proposed to be done along with the Phase I of Census 2021 in all the states and union territories, except Assam.

Who carries out?

  • Both these processes are carried under the supervision of a single office : the Office of the Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner, under the Ministry of Home Affairs.


2011-12 DATA AVAILABLE WITH THE GOVERNMENT: The govt. has the 2011 Census, NSSO’s Employment and Unemployment Survey (EUS), and the Rural Development Ministry’s Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC).

  • In 2009-10, the National Sample Survey Office (now National Statistical Office or NSO) conducted a large sample survey of Household Consumer Expenditure (HCE)
  • This survey, usually carried out once in five years, was repeated in 2011-12. 
  • The reason for reconducting the survey: 2009-10 saw India suffer both a severe drought and the aftereffects of the global financial crisis. 2011-12 was a “normal” year like 1999-2000 and 2004-05, “free” from any major economic downturn.

CONCERNS DUE TO DELAY IN DATA: There is a considerable time lag before the release of the next HCE survey, Census and SECC findings. It means the govt. has  very few recent sources of primary survey data for enabling informed policymaking. 

  • Virtual data vacuum
    • Delay in HCE survey: There was a plan of conducting back-to-back HCE surveys in 2020-21 and 2021-22 “after incorporating all data quality refinements”.
      • The 2020-21 survey is supposed to start from July, which looks unlikely given the novel coronavirus-induced situation.
    • Prior to the Census exercise, the first Houselisting & Housing phase – which looks at the amenities and assets possessed by households along with the condition of homes (construction material, number of rooms, etc) – was to take place during April-September 2020. 
      • It was clubbed with the updation of the National Population Register which was opposed by many states.
    • Affecting Socio Economic caste census (SECC):  The SECC-21, too, cannot be undertaken without the demarcation of enumeration blocks as part of the Census houselisting operation.
  • Insufficiency of present data: The govt. has the Agriculture Census 2015-16, the NABARD All-India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17, and the NSO’s 2017-18 reports on social consumption (health and education) and access to drinking water and sanitation. But they do not provide information on poverty, food consumption etc.
  • Poor implementation of the government. schemes like Public Distribution System: With the 2021 census process being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, any proposed revision of PDS coverage using that data could now take several years. 
    • No update of PDS coverage: The Centre’s calculation of the actual number of people to be covered in each State has remained “frozen.” 
    • India’s population was about 121 crore in 2011 and so PDS covered approximately 80 crore people. 
    • However, applying the 67% ratio to a projected population of 137 crore for 2020, PDS coverage today should be around 92 crore.

The year 2020-21 is not a normal year. Due to Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown, normal consumer data and other parameters are affected. So there will be a need for a new set of data of a normal year once the pandemic is over which may be a long wait.


About Household consumer expenditure (HCE) Survey: It is a massive exercise due to the size of the sample (101,651 households in 2011-12) and also questionnaire (covering the consumption of around 300 food and non-food items). Households are randomly selected based on sampling procedure and members of the household.

  • Conducted by: National Statistical Office under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme implementation (Mospi)  
  • It estimated the expenditure incurred by households on consumption of goods and services. Household consumer expenditure (HCE) during a specified period, called the reference period, may be defined as the following:
    • expenditure incurred by households on 'consumption goods and services' during the reference period
    • imputed value of goods and services produced as outputs of household (proprietary or partnership) enterprises owned by households and used by their members themselves during the reference period
    • imputed value of goods and services received by households as remuneration in kind during the reference period
    • imputed value of goods and services received by households through social transfers in kind received from government units or non-profit institutions serving households (NPISHs) and used by households during the reference period.

Objective of the consumer expenditure survey (CES): 

  • Firstly, as an indicator of level of living, monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) is both simple and universally applicable. 
  • Households with consumption expenditure below a certain level, which is state-specific and different for rural and urban areas, are considered poor. 
    • Average MPCE of any sub-population of the country (any region or population group) is a single number that summarises the level of living of that population.
  • The food (quantity) consumption data are used to study the level of nutrition of different regions, and disparities therein. 
  • The budget shares of a commodity at different MPCE levels are used by economists and market researchers to determine the elasticity (responsiveness) of demand to income increases.

Socio Economic Caste Census

  • SECC-2011 is a study of socio economic status of rural and urban households and allows ranking of households based on predefined parameters. 
  • SECC 2011 has three census components which were conducted by three separate authorities but under the overall coordination of the Department of Rural Development in the Government of India. 
    • Census in Rural Area has been conducted by the Department of Rural Development (DoRD). 
    • Census in Urban areas is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA). 
    • Caste Census is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs: Registrar General of India (RGI) and Census Commissioner of India.
  • Parameters: The rural development ministry has outlined 20 parameters including availability of a house, a toilet, an electricity connection, a gas connection, and education level as well as asset position and land holding to assess household status.
  • The updated SECC will be based on the list of households in the country in 2020 being compiled by the National Population Register, and will form the basis of the social registry, which has been in the works for a long time


  • They answer basic questions like has poverty in India fallen and by how much since 2011-12? 
    • Is consumption of protein-rich foods and vegetables growing at the same rate as in the previous decade? 
    • Do official production estimates for milk or horticultural crops square up with HCE data on household consumption?
  • The government has used the SECC-2011 database for identifying beneficiaries under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana (rural housing), Ujjwala (LPG connection), Saubhagya (household electrification), Ayushman Bharat (health insurance) and other welfare schemes.
  • The advantage of the SECC is that it provides for programme-specific customised priority list to suit programme objective and budget space.

Recently, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (Mospi) passed an order to merge the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) into the National Statistical Office (NSO).

Image Source: Economic Times