GIS: Bringing sense to census

GIS: Bringing sense to census


Saswati Paik
Research Scholar (Geography), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-110067
Email: [email protected] 

Census data can chart out the development path. GIS has a role to play.

At the time, when India is proud of her technological innovations and progress, it will be worthwhile to look at the provisional Census report of 2001 released early this year that reveals the status of the country in terms of socio-economic and demographic situation.

Space in Census
The data are manually collected on the basis of some questionnaires prepared for specific purposes. It covers some ‘space’ which is most important part of ‘geography’, it aims at the collection of information and the entire process must be considered as a ‘system.’ Thus, each and every step of census operation is automatically and intimately correlated with Geographic Information System (GIS) although all the data collectors, compilers or analysts may not be so familiar with this particular term.

Most of the time, census data has some limitations as the statistical data are manually collected and compiled. Despite these limitations, numerical data provided by census are considered the most authentic one at micro and macro level. Although the population tables, published recently by the Registrar General of India, are ‘Provisional’ but those are helpful to have an overview regarding the current status of the demographic and socio-economic parameters.

Essence of the Census
The first census of the new millennium must have highlighted many remarkable achievements but we are still far from the expected level of development in terms of overall development. There are lots of other socio-economic phenomena that must be considered and brought into focus. One of the most important theme is finding out the reasons of decline in overall sex ratio in some particular states, especially those concentrated in the Northern Hindi-speaking belt. It is ovserved that there is a declining trend of sex ratio in the population aged 0-6 in almost all the States and UTs except for Kerala, Lakshadweep, Tripura and Sikkim, is also a matter of further research.

Despite the achievements in terms of literacy, our nation is far from its targeted of socio-economic development. It reflects gap between the aims and strategies of implementing literacy programmes. Although it was functional, but it was not at all satisfactorily ‘functional’ in its true sense. It must be kept in mind that literacy need not be confined to reading, writing and arithmetic, rather it should generate more awareness among the common people, especially in the rural areas which traditionally remain backward in comparison to the urban areas. The significance of literacy lies in the fact that the people achieve the awareness regarding their rights and they also can take part in the developmental procedures of the nation. The people should understand the social problems related to gender discrimination, illiteracy, sanitation and health, they should understand their own social value and should be able to evaluate the economic contribution of individuals as well as individual families. Poverty and illiteracy, the two sides of the same coin, two fundamental problems of our nation, should be major target points to achieve further goals. The vicious circle of these two inter-related problems must be removed with the help of more effective and truly ‘functional’ literacy.

An important aspect of our nation’s progress is the regional disparity with respect to all development parameters. The regional disparity is also found between rural and urban sectors as the planning achievements usually are more concentrated in urban areas rather than the rural areas. Thus rural infrastructure, in general, remains weaker than the urban infrastructure. Therefore, the rural-based economy as well as development parameters create further regional disparities. On the other hand, as the country’s economy and society is more or less agro-dominating, the entire development scenario shows a remarkable disparity as well as backwardness in terms of regional development.

The census data are not supposed to be used merely as raw materials of research or planning proposals, it provides the broader base of thinking in a positive way for future. Whatever lacking found in present census, must be overcome in the next time and whatever facts and factors are coming in the focus as major hurdles in front of the national development must be worked out in future.

Mapping to make a sense
To make the census data more meaningful and user-friendly, GIS may perform a major role. It is able to represent the numerical data in the form of diagrams and maps which say a lot, it also removes the tedious job of pointing out each individual numerical data. Thus a layman can also understand the practical problems concerned with his society and surroundings. It is an essential matter as our nation consists of a democratic set up where all the citizens are supposed to take part in the nation’s overall development. But, unfortunately, we are far from providing such opportunity to all and hence the essential techniques remain ‘sophisticated’ in terms of its value, use as well as implementation.

More or less everyone has seen maps of any kind, but most of us confine the use of them to fulfill our own purpose. From a street hawker you may collect a good thematic map of India or any part of it, but the man, who sold it, is more concerned with its price rather than its significance value. To the students, maps are still the utility goods for examination purpose. To the teachers, they are teaching materials. To the planners they are base of planning. But to that woman who is begging on the pavement with eight or nine children, what is its significance? She might use it as a domestic fuel only, isn’t it?

The thematic maps based on the census reflects the scenario that are very much known to the so-called elite of our country. But those, who are more vulnerable to the parameters creating social disasters, have no idea about the on-going situation of their surroundings. Therefore, the census data will reveal the high growth of population in some parts of the country, decreasing trend of infant sex ratio and even the overall sex ratio in some states; despite all these, we will have to witness the innumerable number of illiterate or semi-literate poor mothers with “Nature’s Child” suffering from malnutrition, poor health etc. in every nook and corner of our society.


  • Provisional Population Tables of India, 2001.
Census 2001 reveals positive trends

The statistics of 1991 and 2001 reveal some remarkable achievements during last decade. Some of them, as mentioned in the ‘Provisional Population Tables, 2001’ are as follows:

  • In 1991 Census, 11 States and Union Territories (UTs) were reported to have literacy rate of 50% or less which had a population of 51% of the country’s total; in 2001 Census, only one State shows below 50% literacy rate, that is Bihar, sharing only 8% of country’s total population.
  • The 1991 Census stated that only 3 States/UTs achieved 80% literacy rate whereas 2001 Census shows 9 such States/UTs.
  • The number of States/UTs having male literacy in the range of 56% was only 10 in 1991, which covered only 47.91% of country’s male population. Now in all the States/UTs male literacy rate is more than 60%.
  • In only 16 States/UTs in 1991 Census, 70% or above male literacy was found, now the number of such States/UTs is 30.
  • Twenty States/UTs having 3/4th of country’s total female population, in 1991 Census, showed 50% or less female literacy rate. Now the number of such States/UTs is only 6, having only about 1/3rd of the country’s female population.
  • In 1991 Census there were only 8 States/UTs with more than 60% literacy rate whereas 2001 Census has recorded 19 such States/UTs in total.