Vital information

The 15th Indian census which was launched last week is the most ambitious programme of enumeration of human beings in history. It goes beyond just counting heads and involves a socio-economic mapping of about 120 crore people, undertaken by an army of officials for many months. The photographing and fingerprinting of every resident above 15 years of age is no mean task.  The data collected through the census will provide an important  basis for many initiatives which are being implemented. It will lead to the creation of a National Population Register and will provide the information base for the issuance of a Unique Identity Number to citizens. The utility of such a data base is great in a country like India where development planning is constrained by lack of information and delivery of services is adversely affected by corruption and inefficiency. Better subsidy targeting and elimination of the need for multiple identity proofs are obvious benefits. The trend in some developed countries is to scale down census operations, but it is vital for India to gain that information because the profile of India as it emerges from the census will be a key input for its future development.

The census exercise will record the changing trends in demography, economic activity, literacy, housing and household facilities, fertility, mortality, language, religion, migration and many other social and economic indicators. For the first time data will be collected on mobile and internet use, banking habits and availability of civic facilities. The census is a nationwide primary data and will provide the basis for many multi-disciplinary studies. Enumeration techniques have improved with the use of computer technology and this will make collection, storage and retrieval of data easier than in the past.

There is huge responsibility on the enumerators to record correct data and make the exercise a success. There are some fears that some questions being posed to citizens and some procedures of the operation are an intrusion into their privacy. It must be ensured that the collection of data does not constitute a violation of the rights of citizens and it is not misused by the government or its agencies for political or other wrong ends.

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