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May 23,2017

Census heading towards conclusion

Azam Khan

ISLAMABAD: The much delayed census process is heading towards completion amid controversies and challenges both for the government with regard to policy and the enumerators with regard to precarious security situation in the country.

The sixth most populated nation on earth last held the exercise in 1998 and the next one was due after a decade but the breakdown in security kept delaying it. Though terrorist attack on census team in Lahore was a serious attempt that claimed precious lives with an aim to demoralise the census team, the process continues without any fear. Similarly, attack on census team on Pak-Afghan border in Chaman crossing in the province of Balochistan was another such incident.

The 60-day long lengthy process was carried out in every single district of the country in two phases. During the next 60-day exercise, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) would present a summary of the numbers to the government. PBS officials say summary will contain details of total population -- number of men, women and transgenders living in the country. The exercise will also count the number of persons with disabilities for the first time.

The next and important phase of the process, which can take months, will make public data about literacy rate, age wise break-up of the population, details about main languages and followers of different religions. Marital status of the population will also be part of the final results.

However, there are certain areas about which the exercise has got nothing to tell. The census results will have nothing to say about internal migration trends and about unemployment. The result will be silent on mortality and fertility rates as well.

The government has pledged to get these crucial results later while conducting sample surveys, said Asif Bajwa, chief statistician. He said that due to limited availability of armed forces, these significant questions have not been made part of the census process.

Regional languages and religions have been neglected in the process. The government has defied the Sindh High Court’s orders to count at least 12 major religions as the PBS only gave space to some eight religions in census forms. According to surveys, Pakistan is a country with 74 languages. But government has counted only nine major languages in the exercise. The statistics bureau picked two languages from each province.

MNA Asia Ishaq, a representative of Christian community from Quetta, said that the census staff was not properly trained to write correct spellings of names of followers of other religions. She said that many people of her community complained that like their religion their names were not written accordingly on the forms by the enumerators.

Census Member Habibullah Khan admitted that SHC’s verdict on religions identity couldn’t be implemented because the PBS was not able to count more than eight religions. He said that only those religions were counted which were also counted in the census carried out in 1991 and 1998. In many cities and towns, government’s projection about population was flawed. The PBS has to arrange additional staff to ensure counting of remaining houses. Lahore for instance, cited as a case study.

According to PBS staff, they have counted many towns and areas in the urban areas of Lahore which they registered previously in the rural of the city. Some political parties still have apprehensions about the transparency of the process. The PPP, the ruling party in Sindh, MQM, the main opposition in the province, also raised objections over the census strategy.

Few dissenting voices were also raised by the lawmakers from the Balochistan about the counting of Afghan refugees in the process. The legislators from Fata also questioned census in the tribal belt before settling down the displaced population of the area. They said that all estimates about scattered population of tribal areas would be wrong till their final settlement.


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