Mr J K Banthia
Registrar General and Census Commissioner
On the occasion of the launch of Census GIS by the office of Registrar General, India, we interacted with Mr J K Banthia, Registrar General and Census Commissioner on Census GIS and other related issues
- Congratulations for the launch for Census GIS? Can you tell how it all happened?
Thanks you. After the successful conduct of the 2001 Census field operations across the country the focus mainly shifted to data processing and then data dissemination. We felt that the huge mine of information collected during 2001 Census should be made available to data user for further use and analysis. A new Data Dissemination Policy has been put in place which envisages publishing pre-formated tables in print, electronic and on the Internet. The policy also proposes to explore the possibility of customized tables on need basis as also on payment basis. We are also proposing making available record level data on a pre-selected sample basis to interested data users.
Besides, we feel that one of the important ways of data dissemination is through maps. Maps can be now generated instantaneously on various Census themes at State/District/sub-District or village level allowing proper spatial analysis. Whereas the Census Organisation has the capability and the infrastructure for generating theme based maps using GIS, for use on the Internet it was considered important to look for appropriate technology. Census GIS India, is a step in this direction which allows generating thematic maps based on Census data, on an interactive basis using GIS technology.
- What challenges and problems you faced while pursuing this project?
In order to provide such a facility of generating thematic maps based on census data on the Internet, at the Census of India Website, search for suitable software began quite early. Currently many extremely expensive Internet GIS softwares are available in the market with a variety of features. My organization was looking for solutions to make available a simple software which is user friendly and able to produce theme based maps at a reasonably quick speed. Low cost solution was another important factor in our quest. A very patriotic Calcutta based Indian company was able to provide a solution which was found acceptable. With close interaction between the Census Organisation and the firm it was possible to created a software producing the desired result. This package was dedicated in the service of the Nation by Shri L. K. Advani, Deputy Prime Minister of India on September 5, 2002. This facility available at the Census of India Website, allows generation of thematic maps based on the provisional results of 2001 Census, free of cost and has already become very popular among Government departments, NGOs, Universitis, Research Scholars and other data users. This software in a way has de-mystified GIS and has now become a friendly tool to analyse Census data using GIS technology on the Internet.
- After the achievement, what is next on your agenda?
In the next phase of development of Census GIS India, on the Internet, it is proposed to make available sub district level data on various Census Indicators, thus enhancing the scope of data analysis. Some more features will be added on Census GIS India, which would allow data users to print the maps generated, use the maps in preparing report/presentations and generating maps for non contiguous areas on selected themes.
- Counting more than a billion? How did you manage? Any role of technology?
Yes, we did count the provisional population of India as 1,027,015,247. This was achieved through advance planning of the various stages of Census operations which involved pre testing of the census schedules, finalization of the contents of the questionnair, writing the instruction manual, printing of schedules and their delivery to all the villages of India, training of over 1.8 million enumerators and supervisors and organizing public awareness campaign. Ultimately census is not conducted as a one man show but it is a big team effort from within and outside the organization. But for the support from the Central Government and all the State and Local Governments it would have been impossible for us to complete what is generally recognized as the biggest peace time exercise anywhere in the world due to the complexities involved. In the ultimate analysis counting more than a billion people really meant getting the total cooperation, assistance and participation from the people of India and the army of over 1.8 million enumerators and supervisors. But for their active support, constructive suggestions from the NGOs and wide coverge by the media it would have been simply impossible to carry out the census exercise.
The role of the technology is basically in census data processing rather than data collection procedures largely due to the current exorbitant costs involved in the latter. It is a matter of great pride and satisfaction for the census organization to opt for the best available technology of image based data processing of the census schedules. We are the pioneers in introducing this scanning cum intelligent character reading technology of the highest order and for such a mammoth operation. Data processing in this country as a result of introduction of this technology will not remain the same henceforth and the census office would be happy to advise and associate itself with any Central or State Government departments in processing of large volume of data sets at an extremely fast pace hitherto unknown.
- What are the striking features of the Indian Census, in terms of methodology and processes?
The striking features of the India Census in terms of methodology and processing is that while it continues to draw strength from the time tested procedures, it quietly but surely introduces innovative and imaginative ideas. For example, in Census 2001, newer methods for imparting training such as audio and video modules, use of mass training through All India Radio Network, the concept of master trainers, help-lines for the enumerators and public at large and toll free telephone line for lodging public complaints were some of the new innovations introduced. The fundamental changes in form designing for the population enumeration stage itself was a radical innovation by combining the individual slip and the household schedule into one schedule. Similarly the recording of the responses was modified to include as many numeric responses as possible to facilitate use of imaging technology for data processing. One of the pioneering innovations introduced in the current census was the facility for a member of the household to have a good look at the data collected and then only put his or her signature on the census schedule. Similarly, the gender sensitization as a part of the instruction manual and training of enumerators was insisted upon and it has lead to positive results in the data collection process as is evident from the provisional census results.
- Any change/modification proposed in methodology in near future, say incorporation of advance technology from data collection itself?
Yes, advance technology in the data collection process wold be incorporated in the near future. We are exploring the possibility of collecting data on hand held devises and also proposing to use GPS as a tool/technique for mapping of the enumeration blocks.
Census department has huge data spatial and non-spatial both. When plans to you have for data dissemination (in the context of NSDI also?
Census Department has already committed itself to be an integral and visible part of NSDI when it is finally launched. Metadata on Census will be made available to the Metadata Server of NSDI and the NSDI Home page is proposed to provide a link to the Census GIS site on the Internet. Any visitor to the NSDI site would be able to select Census Indicators and also directly reach the Census GIS site for viewing and generating maps at India, State or district level.
- What are the key activities of Census department between two census?
There are certain ongoing activities of the Census Department which are not affected by the Census such as monitoring of the Civil Registration System (CRS) of births and deaths throughout the country. Similarly, the Sample Registration System (SRS) is a continued activity of the Department which churns out the most reliable data on an annual basis on births and deaths and certain other vtal statistics both at the country and the state level. In addition much effort of the Department goes in dissemination of the data collected at the census and undertaking several socio economic surveys at the village and community level based on the trends and results obtained from the prcedings census.
- What are the major findings of “Provisional Population Totals Census of India 2001”?
Among the major findings of the provisional population totals of Census 2001, is that the country for sure has crossed the billion mark. There is a perceptible decline in population growth but it continues to be painfully slow. Although the overall sex ratio has improved, there is a disturbing trend of sharp decline in the child sex ratio for the population in the age group 0-6. One of the most important Census findings is the greater improvement in female literacy which, however, needs to be sustained if most of the population of our country has to become literate in the next two decades. Particular efforts in this direction requires to be made in the State Bihar. Although the work participation rate has by and large remained the same, there was a considerable improvement in the female work participation rate in the northern states particularly Punjab and Haryana. Further, there appears to be considerable shift among the working population from the agriculture to the non-agriculture sector. With the release of final data from the Houselisting operations, it is expected that the Census of India would be able to shed considerable light on the various evelopment indicators on the housing amenities and assets available with the community at large. Similarly the final population data will throw up considerable information on the various socio-economc and demographic characteristics of the India population, particularly the changes which have taken place post 1991.