India census to involve 2.7 million counters


THE WORLD’S largest census, involving 2.7 million enumerators, begins in India today to carry out the headcount of an estimated 1.2 billion people.

“The fact that many countries in the world do not have a population equal to the number of officials that conduct the Indian census is an indication of the size of this operation,” registrar-general and census commissioner C Chandramouli said in New Delhi yesterday.

Over the next three weeks this army of enumerators, Mr Chandramouli added, would visit 240 million households spread over 8,001 towns and 640,852 villages collecting a wealth of information on the country’s multifarious tribes, languages spoken and religions followed.

The individual enumerations based on the household census conducted over 45 days between April and June last year which provides the framework for the headcount, will also create a database on demography, economic activity, literacy and education, housing amenities, urbanisation, fertility and mortality.

The controversial caste enumeration, however, opposed by several political parties, that last took place in 1932 is likely to be conducted between June and September 2011.

This will provide the government with accurate data for affirmative action schemes for lower and backward castes which was a highly emotive and politically sensitive issue in India and one which had a significant impact during elections.

Census 2011, in which about 12,000 metric tonnes of paper will be utilised to print 640 million census forms and five million instruction manuals for their reference, will also mark another milestone: the creation of a national population register or a comprehensive digital identity database for each citizen, along with their photograph and fingerprints.

Officials said this would take 11 months to accomplish but would eventually facilitate the creation of a biometrics-based system with identity cards for all Indians above the age of 15, enabling the administration to provide a unique number to each resident, also a global first for such a large number of people.

The issuing of unique identification number cards is aimed at reducing corruption by assuring subsidies on food, energy and education to those entitled to receive them, opening bank accounts, acquiring telephone, mobile or internet connections and getting a passport among varied other benefits provided by the State.

“Nowhere in the world has a government tried to count, identify and issue identity cards to more than a billion people as it intends to after the census is complete”, federal home minister PC Chidambaram said when the “house-listing and housing census” kicked off last year.

Officials said India’s 15th census since 1872 would cost the government Rs22.09 billion (€362 million), which worked out at approximately Rs18.33 per person (30 cents) for a population of more than one billion.