India kicks off its new census billed as the world’s largest administrative exercise

By Nirmala George, AP
Thursday, April 1, 2010

India kicks off world’s biggest head count

NEW DELHI — India kicked off the national census of its billion-plus population Thursday with a 2.5 million strong army of census-takers fanning out across the country to conduct what has been billed the world’s largest administrative exercise.

The census, conducted every 10 years, has a new element this year with the collection of biometric data in which every citizen over the age of 15 will be photographed and fingerprinted, information that will form the base of a new National Population Register of the country’s 1.2 billion population.

“It is for the first time in human history that an attempt is being made to identify, count, enumerate and record and eventually issue an identity card to 1.2 billion people,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

So far, India has not had a system of issuing a national identity number or card to its citizens. The collection of biometric data using a combination of fingerprint and facial identification will be linked with another massive exercise launched last year to ensure that every Indian gets assigned a single identity number.

President Pratibha Patil marked the start of the 11-month exercise Thursday at her pink sandstone presidential palace, which became the first household to be listed for the first phase of the census known as ‘houselisting.’

Over the next six months, census-takers, or ‘enumerators,’ will travel across more than 630,000 villages and over 5,000 cities in the country to visit every structure that serves as a home to put together a national data base. From skyscrapers to tin shanties, census takers will note details such as the availability of drinking water and electricity, and the type of construction material used for a comprehensive picture of housing stock in India.

The census-takers also plan to include millions of homeless people who sleep on railway platforms, under bridges and in parks.

Census-takers are typically government officials, school teachers or other local officials who go home-to-home collecting data on the size of families, marital status, education and work information. For the first time, they also will count bank account holders and cell phone users.

While China, the world’s most populous country, also counts its population, its census is carried out by various agencies, including Communist Party units, commune leaders and factory heads, unlike the New Delhi-based Registrar and Census Commission that carries out India’s count.

India’s census will face a special challenge from left-wing extremists active in 20 of the country’s 28 states who have stepped up a campaign of violent attacks on government officials.

The census-takers plan to finish their work by February 2011. The information will be used for government policymaking, planning and budget allocations.

This will be India’s 15th census being held without interruption at the turn of every decade. Census operations in India were started in 1872 by British colonial rulers.

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