Over 90 per cent of enumerators engaged in the first test phase for Census 2021 opted to use a smartphone app, which will be deployed for the first time in the 16th decennial exercise, according to data from the Office of the Registrar General of India. A senior official told The Indian Express that 6,482 out of 7,102 enumerators registered for data collection through their own mobile devices for the pre-test period from April 12 to September 30 — they will be given an incentive of Rs 5,000 each. At the end of the house-listing test phase Wednesday, mobile phones had synced the figures for 7.7 lakh houses with 26 lakh people to an official web portal, according to official data.
While enumerators can enter data offline, taking into account regions with poor connectivity, they must be connected to the Internet to sync with the portal. The app is currently only in English but will expand to regional languages for the Census.
Over the last year, the government has been discussing the use of mobile technology to decrease the time it takes to release the data, with sources in the Home Ministry saying that the new system could reduce the gap to 2-3 years.
The Census will have code numbers linked to set responses for descriptive questions, to minimise varied responses that need to be categorised post-data collection. Officials say the 2011 Census publication was significantly delayed by a large number of varied responses to open-ended questions. The migration data for the 2011 Census was released at the end of July.
Up until 1965, a hand-held “card punch” was used for data collection. In 1991, the data was digitised on a personal computer and stored locally. Up until that point, the Census collected data of the entire country’s population, but only digitised a selected 5-40 per cent of the data.
The 2001 Census was a huge technological leap with an “intelligent character recognition system” that detected handwriting and allowed for all collected data to be digitised. This more than halved the public release time of 10 years.
This time, three optional mobile applications — houselisting, population enumeration, National Population Register — as well as the web portal were developed in-house by a seven-person team in the Data Processing Unit (DPU) of the Registrar General, which has a 1 PB storage centre.
After the test run, RGI will hire third party software and hardware systems integrators to handle the technological aspects for the exercise that will involve 30 lakh enumerators. Incidentally, the US Census is also experimenting with a mobile app for 2020.