New Delhi: The counting of India’s population for Census 2011 ends on Monday after almost three weeks, in which the Census Commission of India faced the mammoth task of listing nearly 1.2 billion people.
In what the commission calls “the biggest-ever census attempted in the history of mankind”, 2.7 million enumerators, working in 18 languages, visited settlements across the country. The exercise, conducted every 10 years, is expected to cost Rs 2,209 crore.
From the Andaman islands, where census-takers on boats floated packages to islanders on the shore, to the slums in metropolises, where the homeless will be counted on Monday night in a single sweep, the census aims to better its 2001 record of 97.8% inclusion.
Also See | A history of the Census in India (PDF)
The latest census has asked several new questions and contained new categories, revealing information about transsexuals, divorce and remarriage and migration out of India. It also focused especially on capturing accurate data on people with physical disabilities, census commissioner and registrar general C. Chandramouli said.
“There’s still stigma attached to physical disability, especially to women,” he said. “They don’t want to own up to it, so we have got together with organizations that work with disability to track them.”
The new census data is also expected to gauge the success of recent rights-based welfare programmes such as universal education and the flagship rural job guarantee scheme, Chandramouli said.
Besides the headcount, a separate effort is also being made to collect data for the forthcoming National Population Register, which will include biometric data and be combined with unique identity numbers to create smart identity cards.
As census data is confidential, the commission can only release aggregated figures and individual data cannot be shared for programmes such as these, said Chandramouli. The data collection process, therefore, must be manifold.
India is also collecting information on castes, the first time since 1931. This will be done separately between June and September.
“Income and caste are contentious issues,” the commissioner said. “If there is a tendency to boost numbers, it would vitiate the integrity of the census as a whole. So we are carrying out that survey separately.”
Despite the painstaking job of counting heads at door steps, new technology is expected to quicken the process of data entry and analysis.
The first house-to-house counting in India was carried out in 1865 under the leadership of W.C. Plowden ahead of the 1872 census, but covered only the north-western provinces, according to Census India. Plowden insisted all houses be visited on the same day, and data be collected on the inhabitants’ gender, whether they worked in agriculture, and their castes. It was also the first census to establish a detailed classification system based on age.
Now, almost 150 years later, things are simpler. Thanks to scanners that have a 98% accuracy rate, the commission can feed data to computers quickly. It hopes to start releasing data and analyses in as early as two months.
Most of the data is expected to be released by 2013, a huge improvement on the eight years it used to take.
The data is still recorded with pen on paper, despite available software that could hasten the process, because multiple scripts and languages defeat computer programmes intended for English, said Chandramouli.