The Census is needed urgently post elections

By RN Bhaskar

The Bing-generated image about elections suggests many things – the watchful eyes of the lion looms over the election booth. The peaceful wait of citizens outside polling booths. The Ashoka lion emblem which suggests that the principles of the constitution are more important than the machinations of politicians. A perfect picture suggesting an ideal situation.

But reality can be different. That is why this article ponders over the one issue that has not been raised post-elections, even as the new government is being formed.  Sadly, the first files that were dealt with by the newly formed government related to subsidies – 3 crore (30 million) rural and urban houses under Awas Yojana, with higher assistance per beneficiary (

Instead of focussing on wealth generation, the government has once again opted for spending money in a manner that will only weaken the resolve of people to generate their own wealth (Free subscription —  India is pushing its working age population from the low-income segments into subsidy addiction. Subsidies will hobble India during the coming decade. They point to the politicians’ penchant for focusing on garnering votes even at the cost of national health and sanity.

And there is a big danger that the subsidies will be larger than required because of the absence of one critical data input – The Census.

The crucial issue

Sadly, not a single legislator has raised the issue of holding the Census as the country’s priority. There are several reasons why this should be done.

  • Tabling a census report on the population of India is an exercise that has been carried out uninterrupted since 1881. Every ten years, this is the document that each government studies carefully to understand which sections of the population need more attention. This is the first time that a government has assumed that the Census isn’t required.

This hallowed tradition was interrupted in 2021, ostensibly because of Covid. But there are many reasons to believe that if India wishes to remain a democracy, going through the exercise of compiling the Census is imperative — more so now than ever before.

A terribly flawed Aadhaar

  • There is no denying that the Aadhaar system is quite flawed. One of the key problems is that there are more Aadhar cards floating around than the population of India (free subscription — The government has itself admitted that nine states have more Aadhaar cards than their respective populations. The numbers could be larger, but there is no way of finding this out without the Census findings. It must be compiled as a national emergency. Linked to this problem is that between 31 December 2021 and 28 February 2023, at least 20 states saw a surge in Aadhaar card issuances. They may have been genuinely issued, but this needs to be checked out. Once again, the only way to do this is by conducting a full-fledged Census survey.

Too many “living dead”

  • Even in 2014, the government knew that between 23 lakh and 44 lakh people had died each year (statistically speaking) but had not been registered as dead. The only way to sanitise this data is through the Census. The problem exists in India because not every death in this country is registered. Worse, among those who get registered, many do not even get medically certified as being dead. Hence the cause of their death is not known.

This is another reason why the Census becomes critical – it is the only way to actually determine the number of living Indians.

Covid deaths

  • Then there is another problem. When Covid struck India, almost every state government tried to conceal the number of deaths. This was more prevalent in North India where a publishing group conducted a village-by-village survey and pointed out that the number of people dying was significantly greater than what the government had been claiming. Unfortunately, the publishing group was raided by the government’s revenue authorities, and all such reporting stopped ( But that did not stop reputable agencies like Lancet and other NGOs from continuing this work. The figures compiled by The Economist and Lancet vary significantly from those provided by the government by 5 times and 8 times.

All this means that there are huge numbers of “living dead” which need to be removed from the government’s registers. The Census thus becomes an imperative.

Bank accounts, PAN Cards, and Election cards

Compounding all this was the government’s decision to

  1. Insist that banks allow people to open accounts only based on Aadhaar cards. Earlier, bank managers used to insist on two signatures from witnesses testifying that the applicant was known to them. No longer was this required. Earlier, bank account details were posted to the stated addresses of new applicants as a method of verifying the genuineness of the address. This too has been dispensed with. So, a bogus Aadhaar card holder could get a bank account opened without any further verification (
  2. This was followed by instructions from the government – by inserting a clause in the income tax rules – 139AA – which required each bank account holder to get a PAN card. Bankers were chastised by the finance ministry if they failed to comply with this requirement. Thus, bogus Aadhaar card holders got both bank accounts and even PAN Cards. There was a surge in the number of PAN cards issued. The PAN card brings individuals onto the books of tax authorities.
  3. But do bear in mind that in India, currently, anyone drawing incomes of Rs.300,000 a year (or Rs.25,000 a month) is exempted from income tax. So, the bogus bank account could be used to deposit unaccounted funds of Rs.25,000 each month, converting Rs.300,000 of ‘black’ money into ‘w. e’ money. Multiply this into the number of bogus bank accounts and you have a potential laundromat.
  4. What has abetted this potential laundromat is the NPCI (the National Payments Corporation of India). This is the body to which the government sends lists of Aadhaar numbers which are eligible for subsidies and benefits. The NPCI states ( that it does not maintain bank account details of the customers like account number, IFS code and branch address etc. of the customer in the NPCI mapperIn case, a customer seeds his/her Aadhaar number in multiple bank accounts, the previous mapping, if any in the NPCI mapper, gets overwritten by the fresh seeding of the Aadhaar number.
  5. Thus, a bogus Aadhaar card owner could take his benefits in one bank account. He could then close it at the end of the year and open another bank account.  The latest bank account overwrites the earlier account thus leaving no trace of earlier receipts.  NPCI also states that it does not keen any record of past transactions.

Thus, India’s exchequer could have got burdened with ghost recipients of subsidies.   The former Secretary to the government of India, EAS Sarma pointed out this serious flaw to the Comptroller Auditor General (CAG).  But there is no knowledge of any action taken thereafter (

Bogus election cards

  • With a bogus Aadhaar card, you can get a bank account, a PAN Card. Using these you can get a telephone number and even a ration card. Using these documents, you become eligible to receive an election card as well.

So, you now have an election system which has “living dead” and ghost Aadhaar card holders, which need to be weeded out. Once again, EAS Sarma has complained to the Election Commission, but it appears that all warnings have fallen on deaf ears ( Clearly, the only mechanism that can address this bizarre situation is the Census.

That is why the Census needs to be taken up as a national priority. It is crucial for the survival of India as a democracy. It is needed to ensure that subsidies do not get inflated through bogus account holders and deplete the exchequer. It is important that taxpayers are not burdened with additional taxes just because the government has not been able to weed out the bogus cards and the “living dead.”  Financial integrity depends on such information. After all, one needs to know the exact number of citizens that exist in India.


Do view my podcast on this subject at


Comments can be posted to