Hows and whys of population census


WEB DESK: An APC hosted by Sindh government on Sunday was of the unanimous opinion that the 6th population census should be held as scheduled, in March 2016, by the provinces. If all of it is feasible the decision on this would be taken by the Council of Common Interests (CCI) which meets later this month. On the face of it, there is not much in evidence that it would be possible to hold the census next month, nor is there any affirmative signal from the concerned quarters, including the General Headquarters.

The population census after every 10 years is a mandated constitutional provision, and therefore should have been held in 2008. But it was not held – like the 5th, which too, was delayed by seven years – and, therefore, over the years the nation’s futuristic planning has been nothing more than guesswork. So now that it is going to be held it should be credible in terms of numbers and acceptable to all the political parties, who nurse strong reservations about official statistics, particularly in the context of numerical distribution of population in the country. The provinces, especially Sindh and Balochistan, are keener than the rest for an authentic picture to emerge from the census exercise, and they have cogent reasons for that. Sindh believes it is being short-changed in terms of numbers – a feeling rather strongly expressed by the nationalist parties at the APC – and in Balochistan the presence of the Afghan refugees tend to distort the demographic calculation.

The correct numbers are crucial, for they form the basis for number of seats in elected houses, distribution of federal resources by the National Finance Commission (NFC), delimitation of electoral constituencies and quota of jobs in the federal government departments.

How to go about conducting a credible census is therefore as critical as its timeline. The Census Commission has divided the layout of the national population into some 160,000 blocks and for each block it wants one enumerator and a security person. Given the unremitting violence in the country it is simply impossible for the GHQ to spare so many men. Perhaps, the Commission may find all the blocks not sensitive enough for military presence, or accept that one armed security man may look after two or more blocks, and therefore half that number.

Then the question who is a citizen of Pakistan and who is not – the distinction warranted by the ground reality that a very large number of foreigners have taken residence illegally, particularly in Karachi and population centres all along the Afghan border. That the identity cards supplied by the Nadra should be a good enough proof of one being a Pakistani is therefore a fallacy. Undeniably, many an illegal residents have secured such cards, and there are many genuine Pakistanis who haven’t got these cards yet. Nobody should have any beef with demands made by the APC that the provinces should have tangible presence in the Nadra and the Governing Council of Federal Statistics Division.

But how will this positively impact the enumeration process at this stage when the illegal immigrants would have the Nadra-issued ID cards and ask to be counted? This remains a challenge with a potential to distort the census results. The house count, which is to be part of the population census, would help weed out illegal immigrants, which may help verify the credentials of someone who claim to be Pakistanis. But only if the house count is correctly done, otherwise it can be as misleading as it was last time, in 2013, when as many as 600 persons were ‘found’ occupying one flat in Karachi.

The ongoing debate in the Capital finds March-April too close, May-June too hot and therefore the census may be held in September-October. The six-month deferment is being justified on various bases, including an inexperienced Bureau of Statistics, untrained enumerators, deployment of Army and unfavourable weather conditions. An indication to that effect was given by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar the other day when he came down hard on the Bureau officers for their ‘lax attitude’ that could harm his vision of having a credible census that enjoys “trust of all political parties”. It is a strange dilemma in Pakistan that instead of treating the census as a logistical challenge, it is – as it was in the past – a political challenge too. The prevailing suspicions among the political parties are that the PML-N is reluctant to hold census in its current tenure and the MQM is opposed to the house count.

Hopefully, the CCI in its upcoming meeting would dispel these suspicions by announcing a clear roadmap for this exercise which cannot and should not be delayed any further and must be credible when held for very obvious reasons. It needs to be recognised that NFC Awards become ineffective in the absence of a reasonably accurate population census.

Source: Business Recorder