India on Thursday launched “Census 2011,'' the biggest-ever census attempted in the history of mankind enumerating the country's 1.2 billion population and classifying usual residents according to their gender, religion, occupation and education.

The massive exercise, to be spread over next 11 months, will mark a milestone as the first-ever National Population Register (NPR) will also be prepared in which all persons aged over 15 years will be photographed and fingerprinted to create a biometric national database. With this India will probably become the first democratic nation in the world which would have got its population fingerprinted in a year from now.

As the first citizen of the country, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil was the first person to be listed in the decennial exercise. She appealed to her compatriots to follow her example “for the good of the nation.''

“My appeal to all brothers and sisters of the country is to wholeheartedly take part in the gigantic national tasks of Census and preparation of the first ever National Population Register. It is important for the nation as well as you,'' she said after a delegation of the Census officials visited Rashtrapati Bhavan and took down her information.

The delegation included Registrar General and Census Commissioner C. Chandramouli and Deputy Director General, National Population Register, S.K. Chakraborty. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who was also present, said: “An exercise of this kind has not been attempted anywhere else in the world. This exercise must succeed and will succeed. We will leave no stone unturned to visit every village, every habitation in the country.''

The 15th National Census exercise, since 1872, will see over 25 lakh officials capturing the socio-economic-cultural profile of its citizens. It will cost around Rs. 2,209 crore while the expenditure on NPR will be Rs. 3,539.24 crore. The exercise will also consume more than 11 million tonnes of paper.

The Vice-President M. Hamid Ansari was the next one to be listed by the Census officials. Mr. Ansari said the decennial census operation was a remarkable exercise and the first ever NPR was a “unique initiative.''

During the massive exercise, the enumerators for the first time will collect information like ownership of mobile phones, computers, internet, having treated or untreated drinking water facility and usage of banking services. They will also seek additional information for the creation of NPR. The government has already said that no information will be collected on castes as no caste-based census has ever been conducted in independent India.

Mr. Chandramouli said the first phase, called the House listing and Housing Census, will be conducted between this April and July.

The second phase, called the Population Enumeration phase, will be conducted simultaneously all over the country from February 9 to 28, 2011, and the entire exercise would be completed by March 5, 2011.

All 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and more than six lakh villages will be covered.

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