WEB DESK: The government plans to conduct a much delayed census on 28th March estimated to cost around 14 billion rupees with security arrangements accounting for the bulk of this cost. However, according to a Business Recorder exclusive, sources have not ruled out a further delay subject to the failure to finalise security arrangements for the countrywide exercise in time.
The reasons for holding the census are incontrovertible ranging from determining the share of the provinces in the National Finance Commission award (which in spite of some significant changes relies heavily on population), to determining the electoral rolls for elections in the event that there has been a change in demographics in any constituency (which may have implications on many a party’s representations in the national and provincial assemblies), and federal job quotas. In addition, a census is critical to strengthening the capacity of the government to formulate appropriate socio-economic policies based on accurate data and, in the event of unbridled population growth rates, invest appropriate amounts in population planning.
Pakistan held its first census in 1951 – four years after gaining independence and thereafter scheduled a census every ten years. The second census was held in 1961 and again in 1972 (a one year delay as Pakistan was at war in 1971) and then in 1981. The fifth census due in 1991 was never held and one of the reasons cited at the time was political opposition premised on the perception that there had been a significant change in demographics particularly in Sindh’s major cities. A census was held in 1998, thereafter the 2008 and 2010 census were held hostage to the ‘policy of reconciliation’.
It may be recalled that in the third week of March 2015 the federal government, with the consent of the four provinces during the Council of Common Interest meeting chaired by the Prime Minister decided to hold the country’s sixth population census in March 2016 with support of the military. In other words it was acknowledged at the time that the military rather than provincial law enforcement agencies would be required to provide security to the census staff. While the Zarb-e-Azb is being considered an unqualified success the three major attacks in the first 20 days of the year, including the horrendous attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, no doubt account for the word of caution voiced by the staff of the Federal Bureau of Statistics: the holding of the census in March is contingent on the law and order situation in the country.
Be that as it may, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance has decided to have a meeting dedicated to ensuring that foreigners, notably Afghan refugees, are not counted. This too is an important point and one would hope that appropriate measures are taken to safeguard against tabulating foreigners as nationals.
For the last 17 years three Pakistani governments namely Musharraf’s, Zardari’s and Sharif’s have disturbingly been projecting the growth rates of the 1998 census to ascertain key data and as such have, no doubt, been taking flawed economic decisions with a major impact on the quality of life of the general public. It is about that the government took a bold decision to hold the census on schedule come what may and take appropriate measures to finalise the security plan in time.
Source: Business Recorder