Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while being enumerated for Census 2011 last week, said the data from this massive exercise would be a treasure house of information to help the government plan development work.
To begin with, the Census will serve as a performance audit of sorts for the United Progressive Alliance's flagship social welfare programmes.
The UPA government in its first term started or revamped many schemes with focus on the aam aadmi and special emphasis on rural development. A lot of central and state resources have been pumped into schemes like Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and other areas which have constituted part of the ambitious Bharat Nirman scheme for the last five-seven years.
"The point is to find out whether the ongoing programmes had an impact and improved conditions from the last time. Do we have areas in which there have been improvements because of the intervention of the government and have such intervention been successful?" said C Chandramouli, registrar general and census commissioner of India.
Though many government and non-government evaluations have taken place regarding how effective these flagship schemes have been, there is no major consensus on the success, failure or reach of the schemes. The Census process would help in this as it involves visiting each and every household, gathering particulars by asking questions and filling up the Census forms.
The questions are fashioned in a manner that gauge the living conditions of residents in terms of basic amenities, access to financial products, employability and ownership of assets. It is a comprehensive process costing around Rs 6,000 crore, which not only has greater coverage than any other survey in the country but also has the potential to capture greater details. Therefore, the aggregates, which the census figures will provide, will be an assessment of how successful the UPA policy makers have been.
The latest census will engage about 2.5 million people in the data collection exercise and will take into account not only the availability of basic amenities like housing, water and sanitation, but also the quality of such amenities in terms of quality of drinking water, type of sanitation and material used for building houses in a particular area.
The massive exercise, to be spread over next 11 months, will mark a milestone as the first-ever National Population Register will also be prepared in which all persons over 15 years old will be photographed and fingerprinted to create a biometric national database. With this, India will become the first democratic nation in the world, which would have got its population fingerprinted in a year from now.
All 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than 600,000 villages will be covered. Such an approach, which has been enhanced by adding more details to definitions of availability and quality of amenities, will provide better and more relevant information on how the Indian demography benefitted from programmes like rural housing, electrification and drinking water programmes compared to the 2001 Census, officials say.
Another important aspect of the Census is that it provides an "unbiased" snapshot of the progress of the entire nation in the past decade. Therefore, officials say the Census data, which is a processed aggregate of individual data collected and processed over a one-year period, is considered extremely credible and finds users in both the government and the private sector.The 2010-11 Census will also assess the availability of internet facilities, telephone and penetration of cellular services. This will serve as an indication of how and to what extent has the telecom revolution benefited segments of the Indian population. Moreover, the private sector will also find greater use for the Census data because it will be the most credible and comprehensive assessment of the technological penetration and spending capacities of various regions within the country.