The Council of Common Interests. (CCI) with Prime Minister Khan in the chair has approved the conduct of Seventh Population and Housing Census. It was also decided to set up the census monitoring committee to ensure expeditious, transparent and credible census operations.
The decision is welcome. But the census has both political and fiscal ramifications. The Constitution requires that the census data be the basis for political representation to the national and provincial assemblies, distribution of funds among the federating units, allocation of quota in federal jobs and for planning and research in the country. There is a dire need therefore to ensure that the exercise is widely seen to be fair. Unless this happens the census can open a Pandora box that could harm the federation. Unless the exercise is widely seen to be just , it can give birth to inter-provincial and intra-provincial disputes. The last census, conducted in 2017 after a cumulative delay of 26 years, left both PPP and MQM complaining that the province’s population had been under-counted. The Sindh government subsequently maintained that it is not feasible to hold local body elections owing to its reservations on the census results.
The ethnic balance has been disturbed in Balochistan due to the Afghan refugees giving a fresh boost to Baloch-Pashtun tensions. In 2017 the Balochistan High Court had ordered authorities to ensure that the Afghan refugees are not included in the population headcount. Any indiscretion in calculation of genuine citizens can make the situation volatile.
The census involves an expenditure of billions of rupees and the deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilian workers. What is more, it is required to be held after 10 years. The exercise must not therefore remain confined to basic demographics such as gender, age, marital status, religion and mother tongue but also collect significant social data on disabilities, mortality, fertility and internal migration,. It should also collect district wise data regarding basic facilities available to the population like provision of safe water, power, gas connections, metalled roads and hospital beds. The census document should become a basic and reliable source of information for future economic and social planning .