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Opinion

September 17, 2017

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Delimitation

Delimitation

Fleeting moments

The National Census has cost over Rs30 billion, which is a staggering amount for a nation under heavy debt. Will the massive undertaking that jolted us to realise how we had swelled to more than 200 million help plan our future? Even though the census will influence the social and political spheres in the long-run, it is the delimitation of constituencies that should reflect its immediate impact to make the 2018 election meaningful.

However, the result of the census has met much criticism by the political parties. The interest groups in politics want to manipulate things in their own favour. Noticeably, a significant expansion and exodus of population from villages and small towns to big cities is evident by the census result. Political parties, therefore, would most likely demand reallocation of seats in the provinces. Some parties may even go to the courts for this.

The last time the constituencies were redrawn was in 2002, based on the 1998 census. The population has hugely increased since then. Villages, towns, and cities have expanded in all directions. There was a time when the people of Karachi used to call Lahore a lazy and sleepy town. Not anymore. The city of Lahore stays up and remains vibrant until late at night, especially its food streets. Lahoris take to their gastronomic pleasures more seriously than they care for their paunch lines.

Overall, the census – held after a delay of about nine years – has changed the situation on the ground. Many of the national and provincial constituencies would require fresh demarcation in view of the expansion in population. While the provisional results of the census were announced on August 25, the final data will be announced on April 18 next year. Now the Election Commission needs seven months to redraw boundaries after incorporating the new statistical data of the population obtained through the census.

The ECP cannot wait for the official results to fix new limits of the constituencies if the next elections are to be held in time. And it would be an unforgivable negligence on the part of the government if it does not take into account the census data when carrying out the delimitation process. Understandably, the government seems inclined to allow the ECP to use provisional census statistics to carry out delimitation of constituencies.

According to the latest census, the census blocks used as the benchmark for defining boundaries of the constituencies have jumped up from 140,000 to 162,000. In other words, if the constituencies remain the same, reportedly about 20 million people would not be able to exercise their right of vote. In that case, what was the point in spending 30 billion on census if its results were to have no affect on the election? Such an election will always remain a subject of criticism for not representing the entire population of the country.

Some of the districts in southern Punjab, Dera Ghazi Khan, for instance, deserve special attention when redrawing the limits of various constituencies. The existing limits of some constituencies in the district were drawn in a lopsided manner during Gen Musharraf’s rule. The people in this area suffer from an acute sense of alienation, which must be assuaged.

Interestingly, the census results reveal that DGK has grown more in population than all other districts in Punjab. The simple people of the district are in no competition with other districts; they only believe in ‘the more the merrier’. No wonder then that Seraiki-speaking young men are compelled to seek menial jobs in big cities. It’s for the government to alleviate the sense of deprivation of the people living in under developed areas of the province to prevent their mass exodus to big cities. I wish my home district had excelled in activity more useful than procreation.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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