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India’s biometric census

More then one billion Indians aged over 15 will be fingerprinted, photographed, and given an identity card as the government launches its first biometric census. It's the first time the Indian government has collected biometric data as part of the national census.  More than 2.5 million census officials will put together a register of all the houses across the country, before counting the number of citizens in February next year. People’s personal details will also be recorded, such as declared nationality and marital status, as well as statistics on the proportion of bank account holders, mobile phone owners and Internet users. The census also plans to include millions of homeless people who sleep on railway platforms, under bridges and in parks.

The government says it is the biggest exercise of its type. "It is for the first time in human history that an attempt is being made to identify, count, enumerate and record and eventually issue an identity card to 1.2 billion people," Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said. Until now, India has not had a system of using a national identity number or card. The collection of biometric data using a combination of fingerprint and facial identification will be linked with another massive exercise launched last year to ensure that every Indian gets assigned a single identity number.

President Pratibha Patil marked the start of the 11-month exercise today at her pink sandstone presidential palace, which became the first household to be listed for the first phase of the census called house listing."India has been conducting a national census since 1872," the man leading the exercise, Census Commissioner, C Chandramouli told the AFP news agency. "Nothing - floods, droughts, even wars - has been able to stop it. "The census is a means of evaluating once in every 10 years, in a dispassionate manner, whether government programmes are reaching their intended target and plan for the future. It is also a challenge to see that the 2.5 million enumerators carry out the instructions we have given them without error," Chandramouli said."The trick is to get things right the first time. There is no question of a re-census," Chandramouli added.

Many Indians seem to support the new ID cards, believing they will make it easier to receive things like state benefits and remove the current need for multiple personal documents, said a BBC correspondent. The first set of results is expected to be released in November next year.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children