Preliminary census results

They mean that the population is growing faster than resources

The preliminary results of this year’s census, conducted digitally for the first time, have been announced, even as rumblings of discontent about these results arise. The census is premature, not being due until 2027, the previous one having been conducted in 2017. However, that one was taken nine years late, after the one in 1998. That was late, coming six years after one was due. While Partition itself did not stop the 1951 census happening on time, with the series starting in 1881 continuing on both sides of the border, the 1971 War caused the first delay, with the census due in1971 conducted in 1972.

If decennial censuses are prescribed in the Constitution, why are there these delays? It is precisely because of the constitutional provision that a purely statistical exercise has been fraught with, even dominated by, political implications. The Constitution prescribes a census so that it becomes the basis of allocation of National Assembly seats to the respective provinces, and of the electoral roll, which is to be prepared afresh. Censuses also mean fresh allocations of provincial assembly seats between districts. Further, it also determines the distribution of resources between provinces from the federal divisible pool. Politicians have tried to duck to question either by delaying the census, or even delaying the notification of a census already held, as was done with the 2017 census. From an objective scientific exercise, the census becomes an emotive political tool.

Censuses are expensive to conduct, and involve large numbers of people, apart from providing an entire government department, the Census Bureau, with 10 years of fulltime activities, preparing various reports, before the next census. Censuses also determine where roads are built, and hospitals erected. The 2018 elections had to be conducted on delimitations based on un-notified results through a one-time constitutional amendment. There was an understanding that the census would be carried out early, correctly. The MQM claimed its strongholds were undercounted, and there has been a repetition of the charges against the current exercise. Getting the census results accepted by all is the responsibility of the federal government. However, while politicians wrangle over constituencies and resources, the census presents the picture of a country bursting at the seams with people. Without a vigorous population policy in place, Pakistan seems well on its way to a mind-boggling population by mid-century, when demographers rather optimistically expect the population to begin stabilizing at half a billion. Well, at an estimated 247 million, we’re almost halfway there.

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The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].

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