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The Department of Census and Statistics is an amalgamation of two units, the statistics section and the census section which functioned separately under the Donoughmore Constitution. The census section comprised the Census Department which was created on December 1, 1944 for the purpose of taking the Census of Population in 1946.

With the inauguration of the Soulbury Constitution in 1947, both statistics section and census section were brought under a new department namely the Department of Census, Statistics and Planning which was assigned under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This department was renamed as the Department of Census and Statistics by a gazette notification dated May 18, 1948.

History of census taking

Census taking in Sri Lanka dates back to the late 19th century. Prior to 1871, estimates of population had been made from time to time on the basis of returns made by village headmen. The first scientific census in Sri Lanka was conducted on 27th March 1871 by the then Registrar General’s Office. In fact Sri Lanka has the longest history of Census takings among SAARC countries.

Since 1871, censuses were conducted, usually in every 10 years with certain exceptions. With the inception of the Census Department in early 1940s, the population census taking was handed over to the department.

  • The 1941 census was conducted only in 1946 due to the world war. This was recorded as the first census taking by the department.
  • Even though it was intended to hold a census in 1951, it was postponed to 1953 owing to the shortage of paper at that time.
  • The tradition of taking censuses in the year ending in 1 could not be maintained in 1960s and the next census was carried out in 1963.
  • The DCS managed to revert back to its tradition and conduct censuses in 1971 and 1981 but the census which was scheduled to be conducted in 1991 could not be implemented due to the disturbances prevailed in northern and eastern parts of the country.
  • The last Census of Population and Housing was conducted in the year 2012.

Commencing years of Censuses SAARC countries

Country Started Year
Sri Lanka 1871
India 1881
Nepal 1911
Pakistan 1951
Bhutan 1969
Maldives 1972
Bangladesh 1974

Census of Population and Housing 2001

The last census of Population and Housing was conducted on 17th July, 2001. It has special significance as it was the first census to be taken in the new millennium after a lapse of 20 years from the previous census, which is the largest time gap reported for an intercensal period in the history of censuses in Sri Lanka. The enumeration of 2001 census was carried out completely in 18 districts. These include 17 districts in Western, Central, Southern, North Western, North Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces and Ampara district in Eastern province.

In Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, no enumeration was done while Mannar, Vavuniya districts in Northern province and Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts in Eastern province were enumerated partially.

Population based on censuses conducted in Sri Lanka so far;

Year and date of
Population of Census

Population Enumerated
1871 March 27 2,400,380
1881 February 17 2,759,738
1891 February 26 3,007,789
1901 March 01 3,565,954
1911 March 01 4,106,350
1921 March 18 4,497,854
1931 February 26 5,306,863
1946 March 19 6,657,339
1953 March 20 8,097,845
1963 July 08 10,582,064
1971 October 09 12,689,897
1981 March 17 14,846,750
2001 July 17
18,797,257 * estimated