Preparing for population census


While the government should have been all set to hold population and housing census after a long gap of 18 years, it does not seem to be properly prepared for the task. Some lose ends remain to be tied. To start with, as per the plan, Army personnel are to accompany civilian field staff to ensure against any hanky-panky by vested interests.

The number of census blocks is 166,801 which means even if one uniformed enumerator is assigned to each block, the security forces will have to spare that many people. It remains to be seen if that is a realistic expectation given that the Army is already spread thin fighting a war in the tribal areas and carrying out intelligence based operations all over the country. So far the GHQ has not given a firm commitment, as to if and when, it can fulfil the requirement.

An equally challenging issue is a large number of Afghan nationals who have acquired national identity cards through fraudulent means. This has happened in all the provinces, but the issue is all the more acute in Baluchistan where people are genuinely apprehensive about the inclusion of a large number of Afghans. They are worried that it would upset the demographic balance in favour of Pashtun population, rendering the Balochis a minority in their own province.

Some exasperated voices have even been threatening to boycott the enumeration exercise. That is a serious problem, though not something that could not be resolved. As a press report points out Punjab has found a solution by undertaking a geo-tagging exercise to identify the Afghans who have obtained Pakistani CNICs. The tendency needs to be curbed to lay the blame on the Balochistan government for not having done the same for whatever reason. Given the delicate nature of the issue, the province needs to be helped to deal with the situation. Then there has been a proposal to hold census in phases, which could only undermine the exercise.

For it could be used by those with stakes to move people from one area to another to inflate their respective sides’ population figures, which can only distort the census picture and exacerbate ethnic/inter-provincial tensions. Although the proposal was shot down by the government, uncertainty still prevails amid reports that the Army may not be ready to play its part yet, which could lead to either a phased enumeration or postponement.

The importance of a controversy-free census cannot be emphasised enough. The population statistics form the basis of representation in the national and provincial assemblies as well as local governments. Even more consequential in the context, is the distribution of national resources. Although under the revised National Finance Commission (NFC) Award the single criterion of population for determining provinces’ share in national resources has been changed, population still carries as high a weightage as 82 percent and the backward areas another 10.3 percent.

Unsurprisingly therefore there are people not only in the smaller provinces who would want to exaggerate numbers but also in the largest province so as to claim as big a share as possible in both political power and financial resources. The new NFC award is overdue and the general elections in two years time. The government must do all that is necessary to address the various issues to ensure the new census provides a true and indisputable picture of the population tally.

Source: Business Recorder