Inordinate delay in population census


WEB DESK: The Council of Common Interest’s meeting last Friday – a rare second meeting of the forum within a month’s time – failed to decide on a precise date for holding the long overdue population census.

Even though under the constitution, census has to be conducted every 10 years, the exercise is late by as many as 18 years. The last census was held way back in 1998.

The ostensible reason for the ordinate delay is the non-availability of the armed forces personnel in required numbers to accompany enumerators in one go as they are busy fighting the Zarb-e-Azb. Conducting the exercise in a phased manner was deemed out of the question since it could undermine the credibility of the results, giving rise to serious disputates among the provinces. That is because the trust deficit is too high. Something the government should be able to do on its own cannot be done without the help of soldiers as the provinces suspect one another of overstating their population figures due to the benefits that are at stake.

Such important matters as the number of national and provincial assemblies as well as local government councils, job quotas in the federal services, and distribution of national resources under the National Finance Commission Award are determined on the basis of population. These issues serve as an incentive for the provinces to want to claim higher population figures than they actually are. Since the largest population province of Punjab already is in an advantageous position it seems to have the least interest in a new census. In fact, if there is one word to describe the reason at the root of the delay; it is dishonesty. A way needs to be found around the problem to record the actual number of the population for proper planning of policies and a fairer determination of the provinces’ rights.

People’s representation in the assemblies and demarcation of their constituencies, of course, has to be based on population numbers. The resource distribution formula, revised after a lot of squabbling and haggling, has been improved by including factors besides population alone, such as backwardness, revenue and, inverse population density for horizontal allocation of resources but population remains the overwhelming factor for distribution from the federal divisible pool of taxes. Still a feeling of injustice stays with the smaller provinces, which is harmful for the health of the federation.

It is about time the political leadership thinks about making necessary amends. The wheel does not need to be reinvented; examples of well-established parliamentary democracies suggest a review of the financial powers of the upper house of Parliament, the Senate, where all provinces have equal representation. Instead of merely making recommendations for additions or deletions in the Finance Bill as is the practice at present, the Senate needs to be vested with the power to make meaningful changes regarding financial allocations. Once the small provinces have a sense of security vis-a-vis their share in financial matters, the incentive to resort to inflating population figures can be expected to abate.

Source: Business Recorder