New Delhi: India will on Thursday despatch the first of 2.5 million officials and volunteers to count its people in an overhauled census which the government hopes will help better deliver services.

For the first time, the 2010-11 count will not just tally the vast numbers living in cities and isolated hamlets, but will build the National Population Register, an identity database for about 1.2 billion people, including photographs and fingerprints of all usual residents above the age of 15.

Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint

India, the world’s most populous nation after China, has carried out censuses every 10 years since 1872, first under British rule and since 1947 as an independent country.

Information on use of cellphones, reach of computers, Internet and banking facilities will be collected for the first time, home secretary G.K. Pillai had said in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Census staff will visit more than 240 million households in 640 districts to collect information.

The count will be conducted in two phases: homes will be listed and personal data for the population register will be collected until July, and in a second stage in February 2011, the final number of people will be tallied.

The total cost is estimated at Rs6,000 crore, of which the census will cost about Rs2,200 crore, the home ministry said.