There are evidences of conducting Census in several countries in ancient
    times.  But as the purpose of Census in those days were for recruitment to the army
    or for taxation it was not exhaustive and elaborate as in modem times. Indications
    are there of having conducted Census as early as 3000 years BC in parts of Babylon,
    China and Egypt. The importance of Census has been mentioned in the Arthashastra
    by Chanakya and the Bible.

           Modem system of Census taking started in the 18th Century. The first such
    Census was conducted in Sweden in 1749. Decenmal Census started in 1790 in the
    United States of America and in 1801 in England.

           India is one of the few countries which had an unbroken series of
    decennial Censuses spanning overa a hundred years. India's history of conducting
    Census dates back to 1865-75 when a systematic Census was taken. The first
    synchronous Census was taken in 1881 in India and thereafter Census has been taken
    every ten years without break.

           After Independence, Census is conducted in India under the Census Act of 1948.
    The present Census of 2001 is the fourteenth in the regular series and the sixth
    afterIndependence. It has the distinction of being the first Census of the millennium
    and twenty first century. It is also the first census to be held after India crossed
    the one billion mark as per population projections.

More info on the History of Census is available on the Internet.
See British Census of India - Home page for a fascinating account of 1891 Census of India and a memo on 1871 Census.

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Expert-Eyes based on official hand outs.