Friday March 31, 2023

Digital census hits snags

December 30, 2022
An official from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics collects information from a resident during a census as security personnel guard them in Peshawar.— AFP
An official from the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics collects information from a resident during a census as security personnel guard them in Peshawar.— AFP

ISLAMABAD: The pilot project of digital census in 33 districts of the country has been completed successfully. However, the census process is yet to begin due to some technical snags. This could potentially derail the ECP’s delimitation procedure, forcing it to hold elections on the previous data.

Highly-placed Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sources told The News here Thursday that if the results of the census were not submitted by the end of March, delimitation of constituencies wouldn’t be possible within the timeline for holding the next general elections.

The sources revealed that the delay stems from a hold-up in the procurement of technical equipment for the digital census. The government is procuring around 120,000 tablets for this purpose.

The PBS had earlier announced that the seventh digital housing and population census had been delayed by four months due to procedural reasons, clarifying it was neither put on hold nor postponed. The first pilot project was supposed to start in June 2022 and later in August and finally in December. A slight delay yet another time couldn’t be ruled out in the launch of digital census, the sources said.

The results were previously scheduled to be submitted to the ECP by this month, but they will now be submitted in March next year. The sources pointed out that the delay stemmed from a hold-up in the procurement of technical equipment. The timelines of the census had been revised and field operations for the first digital census are yet to start, making it practically impo­ssible for the ECP to carry out fresh delimitation for the general elections according to its earlier schedule. The PBS has already informed the ECP that the results of the census could be delayed further and may be available by the end of April next year. It has warned that if the timeline is squeezed, it would increa­­se the risk factor.

The ECP, on the other hand, needs the final notification of the census at least four months ahead of expiry term of the assemblies. The ECP would need four to six months to carry out the delimitation exercise. According to sources, under Article 51(5) of the Constitution and Section 17 (2) of the Elections Act, the final published data was a mandatory requirement for the ECP to begin its delimitation of constituencies. The ECP had asked the government to publish the official results of the census by year-end.

According to the original schedule, the census exercise was due to start on Aug 1, 2022, and its results were to be handed over to the ECP by Dec 31 and the final results by February 2023. The sources recalled that the ECP had reservations even then and wanted final results by Dec 31. The term of current assemblies would expire on Aug 12 next year, except for the Punjab Assembly, which would last till Aug 14. Once the census was published, the ECP would requ­ire more than four months to carry out a fresh delimitation exercise. The sources said that similarly, the revision of electoral rolls would also be required due to any increase or decrease in the number of census blocks and boundaries of blocks in different districts. Likewise, an action plan under Section 14 of the Elections Act 2017 is also required to be prepared four months before the general elections.