Open Data Spotlight: Government of India Census

What story do the hearts of over 1 billion Indians tell? This is the question dataset publisher Preet Singh Khalsa set out to answer when he compiled an exhaustive database describing demographic characteristics of the world’s second largest population. In this Open Data Spotlight interview, Preet explains how he transformed data from scattered PDFs into this immensely valuable resource. The single CSV allows the Kaggle community and the world to learn about India’s dynamic population including everything from religion and literacy to education and employment, and more.

Getting Started

What kind of data nerd are you? Tell us about yourself and your background

I am a sophomore at BITS Pilani pursuing a double major in Electrical & Electronics Engineering and Economics. I am fascinated by how big data can play a pivotal role in understanding a system, predicting its behaviour and generating not so obvious insights.

I have a background in programming and college-level econometrics. I have leveraged data science to find crime patterns of New Delhi back in high school and generating insights for non profits as an Associate Consultant at 180 Degrees Consulting which is the largest pro bono consulting organization globally.

Can you describe the dataset? (e.g., how it was collected, what information it contains)

This database has been extracted from Government of India Census 2001 and includes data of 590 districts, having around 50 variables that describe everything from population distribution on the basis of gender, occupation, religion etc. to the drinking water, electricity and educational facilities. It serves as an exhaustive database to understand the demography of second largest population of the world.

Government of India Census dataset on Kaggle.

Government of India Census dataset on Kaggle.

It was compiled from scattered PDF files online (accessible by selecting relevant fields here: which were downloaded with the help of Python (urllib) and processed with the help of R and Python (PDFTables API, openpyxl). What particularly helped was the fact that I noticed a pattern in the URLs of the PDFs which helped me automate the whole process.

Deep in the Data

What motivated you to create this dataset and share it on Kaggle?

Census of India is a rich database which can tell stories of billions living in the fastest growing economy. It is important not only for research point of view, but commercially as well for the organizations that want to understand India’s complex yet strongly knitted heterogeneity.

While working on an internship project, I surprisingly found out that nowhere on the web, there exists a single database that combines the district- wise information of all the variables (most you can get is 4-5 out of over 50 variables!).

This evident gap between availability and usability of a powerful data source compelled me to create the dataset. Kaggle seemed the perfect platform to share it since it has got a massive outreach and an awesome community that loves to tell stories through data.

How do you hope that opening up this dataset to analysis can benefit the world?

Apart from narrating the story of dynamism of India, this dataset when used in contrast with preceding or succeeding datasets, can help developmental theorists and stakeholders in bureaucracy trace trends in development, distribution of educational/ health facilities and mobilization of communities to better formulate policies. A comprehensive understanding of the dataset can lead to better management of resources to optimize the impact (for instance, aid could be directed to areas with the lowest population/ resources ratio).

The Community

Tell us about your favorite kernel (so far!) made using the data

My favourite kernel would be “Digging into a billion hearts” since it presents a fine blend of micro (district level) and macro (state level) analysis of socio- economic status and growth patterns.

Radar chart of religiosity of each Indian state.

How religious is each state? Check out the full analysis here.

To find unexpected pockets of growth, the district-level growth rate is pitched against the state average. Also, the use of radar charts to visualize the share of different religions in each state seems like a good idea since religion is deeply intertwined with culture in India.

What have you been most surprised to learn?

I was surprised to find out that New Delhi district of Delhi (capital of India) has had the slowest rate of population growth between 1991- 2001 among all districts. This could be indicative of development of previously unoccupied areas of the capital.

Population growth rates of Indian states.

Population growth rates of Indian states. Check out the full analysis here.

How would you like to see the data used by data enthusiasts?

I would like to see the interplay of variables like education, employment, caste and religion. That I believe, could yield enthralling insights.

Thoughts on Open Data

In what ways do you see easy access to open data changing the world?

Open data is undoubtedly making the world a more connected and transparent place.

If you could make any other data freely available for analysis, what would it be?

I would love it if all other Census datasets would be presented in this format. I haven’t been able to find a hack to automate the task though.


InnoValeur | Data Science | Smart Data | Machine Learning | AI

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