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You are being counted… for your benefit

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

New Delhi: Over the next six months when officials visit you and seek details of your family, do cooperate. That is the message for the 120 crore (1.2 billion) people of India who are being enumerated on the basis of their socio-economic indicators to help the government scheme its developmental plans.

The once-in-a-decade exercise that kicked off Thursday – 15th since the national census was started in 1872 – in the world’s second most populous nation after China becomes more challenging and important this time. The last census was held in 2001.

Census takers will also take fingerprint and facial identification to collect biometric data of every person. This information will be used by Nandan Nilekani’s Unique Identification Authority of India in National Population Register (NPR) to ensure that every Indian above the age of 15 gets a single identity number.

Over the years, each individual will be given an identity card with the unique number that can be utilized for a variety of identification purposes to help end duplicity of documentation.

The unique ID will establish an easy identity of Indian citizens while accessing a variety of governmental and private-sector services. And in the times of global terrorism, it will also help identify Indian citizens from illegal immigrants and terrorists.

The census operation would cost around Rs.2,209 crore while the approved cost of the scheme for creation of NPR is Rs.3,539.24 crore (750 million USD).

So apart from the census form that is more statistical in nature, people will be asked to fill up a questionnaire seeking individual details like name, father’s name, mother’s name, educational qualification, date of birth and sex.

The census and NPR have statutory backing of legislations – the Census Act 1948 and The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules , 2003. Hence cooperating with census takers and sharing details with them is legally bound as the government promises full confidentiality of data.

India has been conducting census once-in-a-decade non-stop since 1872 “even through the wars, floods, droughts, earthquakes and national calamities,” Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India C. Chandramouli told IANS about the gigantic task of profiling and counting the huge population of India.

Over 25-lakh (2.5 million) government officials – to act as enumerators – have been fanned out out across the country to conduct the “the world’s largest administrative exercise”, he said.

Over the next six months, the enumerators, as census takers are called, will travel across more than 630,000 villages and over 5,000 cities in the country to visit every nook and corner and will put together a national data base. They also intend to count people who sleep on roadsides.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who led the delegation of census officials to take details from President Pratibha Patil to be enumerated as the first citizen of India, said it was the first time in “human history that 1.2 billion people are being provided I-cards after being identified, counted and enumerated”.

“This exercise must succeed and will succeed. We will leave no stone unturned to visit every village, every habitation in the country,” Chidambaram said, appealing to the civil society, teachers, parents and authorities to take part in this exercise.