The countdown to the democratic world’s biggest headcount has begun.
The big day is still four years away but census officials have started the groundwork that will tell the story of how India has grown and moved over the previous decade. An official said the first phase of the field tests for some of the questions to be asked was nearing completion.
This is the first time that they have started the homework nearly four years in advance for the D-Day that would see lakhs of enumerators going from street to street, door to door, asking questions that will lead to, what noted demographer Prof Ashish Bose calls, a "goldmine of data".
"Earlier, we never had the time to do this kind of an exercise; we would still be releasing the data up to the seventh and eighth year. And by the time we were through, it would be time for the next census," DK Sikri, Registrar General and Census Commissioner, told Hindustan Times.
A technical group under Sikri last year had projected India’s population at 119 crore in 2011 and 139 crore in 2026. China will still have more heads to count but Prof Bose said the Indian census was the world’s largest and comprehensive census by virtue of the wide-ranging questions asked, right from the number of rooms, amenities to occupation of the billion-plus population.
Later this year, Sikri plans a conference of information technology firms to figure if he could again leverage technology to spend lesser time processing the data sheets enumerators return with.
The 2001 Census – that counted 102 crore heads – had generated nearly millions of data sheets. Israeli data readers that scanned the pages for the information and put them straight into the computers have ensured that Sikri has been able to wrap up compiling the data within five years.
An ambitious Sikri wants to ask the IT industry if there was something else that could help him complete the processing, classification and cross-classification of the data that will be generated within, say two years.
Questions on castes are unlikely to figure in the census questionnaire this time too; the home ministry has held on to the policy decision of the 1950s that a caste census would be a retrograde step. "Good… Adding any more questions could have ruined it," said Prof Bose.