Tracking numbers that form a nation waiting to exhale
Reports on the 1951 Census were issued in 17 volumes, which were divided into 63 parts
India has been conducting regular decadal censuses since 1881, much before it got independence. However, the census exercises before 1951 were carried under the directions of the British government. How did India prepare for its first post-Independence Census? Pre-Independence deliberations helped here.
The British government had constituted a Health Survey & Development Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Joseph Bhore in 1943 which was tasked with post-War development in the field of health. The Bhore Committee submitted its report in 1946 and recommended that “the Population Problem should be the subject of Central study”. This recommendation led to the coming into force of the Census Act in 1948. The censuses of the post-Independence era were conducted as per the provisions of this Act.
The report of the 1951 Census reproduces comments made by India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to highlight how serious the Indian state was about improving the quality of its census. It also suggests that the government hoped to introduce sampling technique in conducting the census in the future, a decision which has never been implemented till date.
“Hitherto, the census used to be looked as a decennial operation for which haphazard temporary arrangements used to be made. I have already stated there is now a permanent Census Act on the Statue Book and Government have already a permanent office of the Registrar General and the Census Commissioner. It is our intention through this unified organisation to effect continuous improvement over the whole field of population data including the Census and vital statistics, and to conduct experiments in sampling which would reduce not only the elaboration of these operations but the cost,” Patel is reported to have said in the first Census Conference.
The enumeration period for the 1951 Census was from February 9 to 28, 1951. A three-day revisional round from March 1 to 3 was undertaken to update the data as on sunrise of March 1, the reference date. The reports on the 1951 Census were issued in 17 volumes, which were divided into 63 parts. R A Gopalswami, the Registrar General of India and the ex officio Census Commissioner for India, submitted the report of the 1951 Census to the Secretary to Government of India in the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 1, 1953. The 1951 Census report also issued separate district handbooks on all 307 districts of India back then.
Independent India also gave itself a pat on the back for having conducted its first census in an economical manner. “It is reckoned that the central government would have spent 149 lakhs of rupees in all on the 1951 Census. This works out to a sum of ₹41/12 per 1000 persons enumerated. The corresponding rate for the 1931 Census (the last census for which full tabulation was undertaken) was ₹15/8. The rise in unit cost is smaller than the increase which has occurred in the general level of prices, wages and salaried since 1931”, the report said.
In the Census of 1951 the entire Jammu & Kashmir was excluded and its population was estimated on the basis of past census figures.
The 1951 Census sought responses on 13 questions. Twelve of these were common for all states while one question with sub parts relating to fertility, unemployment, infirmity, size of family was optional for certain states. The number of questions which are asked in the census have increased consistently, with the 2011 Census seeking responses on 29 questions.