India is counting heads

New Delhi, April 5: Though it was kick-started on the April Fools Day just under week, there is no fooling around the head count that is underway across India’s   630,000 plus villages and 5,000 towns and cities from tin shanties to skyscrapers.

Nearly 25 lakh enumerators, mostly drawn from local government agencies and school teachers are making census of even the homeless and are taking the fingerprints and photographs of each person. They are also collecting information on Internet, mobile phone and bank account usage in the exercise seen as a prelude to creation of National Population Register and introduction of national identity cards.

When completed in a year from now, the census data will also offer the first ever comprehensive picture of housing in India as instructions have gone to enumerators to note the availability of toilets, drinking water and electricity, and the type of building materials used.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram puts the cost of the latest census  – the fifteenth since India started counting heads every decade since 18782, at around $1.2 billion but he believes it is worth every penny. ‘”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’.

He has a point. Unlike India’s largest neighbour and world’s most populous country, China, where multiple agencies including Communist party cadres do the census work, in India, the work is undertaken by single official agency – the Registrar General and Census Commissioner.

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst