Starting April 26, census officials in the State will begin working on one of the biggest official counts in the world – India's 15th census.

The nearly year-long process will be under way in eleven States and five Union Territories when census officers in Andhra Pradesh visit the first house.

More than a billion people, literate and unlettered, speaking in six thousand tongues will answer questions in forms printed in 16 languages. But this time around, the census enumerators and their supervisors will have two tasks ahead of them. Alongside every census form, there will be a second form, which will collect data for the National Population Register (NPR) - the first attempt at a national identity database.

After each household records its details, every person in the household records their details for the NPR – name, marital status, educational qualifications, occupation etc.

A year later, these forms will begin yielding the Unique Identification Cards, which will be issued to every citizen and ‘usual resident' in the country.

These cards will carry the individual's photograph as well as fingerprint for authentication.

Gigantic task

Before the mammoth process can begin, India's teeming towns and remote villages need to be broken down into blocks, each having not more than 150 households. Then census enumerators and their supervisors have to be trained.

First conference

With six weeks to go, the State held the first conference of Principal Census Officers and District Census Officers on Saturday.

“We cannot leave anyone out,” Census Commissioner C. Chandramouli said repeatedly.

“We have to find a way of counting all kinds of people – nomadic groups, illegal settlers and migrants.” “We are quite confident of the process,” he said. More than 3,000 coastal villages in the county are almost at the end of the NPR process. They will be the first to receive UID cards, which will be issued from the middle of 2011.

Fingerprints

“In the coastal villages, we covered almost everyone in the first round,” Dr. Chandramouli said.

“It will be more difficult to cover towns and cities because everyone has to be informed and persuaded of the need to come and provide their photographs and fingerprints as identification.”