by Elton Gomes
In an attempt to harness benefits of the digital space, data collected during the 2021 census might be stored electronically for the first time since the exercise was conducted in 1951 in Independent India.
As per an amended rule by the Registrar General of India (RGI) on June 19, “The schedules and other connected papers shall be disposed off totally or in part by the Director of Census Operations, after creating an electronic record of such documents,” as reported by the Hindu.
The report cited a spokesperson from the Home Ministry who stated that till date, the schedules carried by enumerators to households were stored in physical form at the government’s warehouse in Delhi. Schedules are a tabular form containing the details of multiple individuals. Based on these schedules, relevant information about population, language, and occupation are sorted and published.
“The records running into crores of pages were occupying space in government office and it has now been decided that they will be stored in an electronic format. Any tampering with the data will invite punishment under the Information Technology Act, 2000,” the spokesperson told the Hindu. The RGI has issued the notification, and work related to the 2021 Census has already begun.
However, although India plans to store census data electronically, completely turning paperless might not be immediately possible. Even developed countries have not been able to conduct a fully paperless census. A paperless census comes with its own set of pros and cons.
In a world rife with data theft and privacy concerns, are we ready for a digital census?
In an interview with Live Mint, registrar general and census commissioner Sailesh spoke about the various developments in store for the 2021 census. When asked about the 2021 census going paperless, Sailesh said, “We will move cautiously, evaluating all the pros and cons. But even with a paper-based census, the downstream systems could be so good that the data can still be processed fast,” according to Live Mint.
At a time when data theft is becoming common, it is imperative that the government understand the importance of protecting user data. A paper-based census ensures that. Commenting on data protection and privacy, Sailesh told Live Mint, “That is a definite concern for us. We will also not allow anybody to aggregate our primary data from the field. Systems have to be devised to ensure that the data that flows in from downstream surveyers happens in a fully secure manner.”
Although a detailed plan on the 2021 census hasn’t been released, the government will have to ensure that the data is safe and secure. The government has already faced flak for allegedly selling Aadhaar details to one lakh service providers, and any misstep on the data privacy front could lead to chaos. Furthermore, effective policies should be put in place so that users are not apprehensive about sharing personal data.
Advantages of a paperless census in India
A paperless census will drastically reduce the storage space for physical files. As all data will be stored electronically, the government will save up on substantial amount of physical storage space.
The use of technology in census will also help pave the way for other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and Internet of Things, to take root in India.
India can look to Swaziland and Ethiopia for precedence, given their success in conducting a digital census.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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