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April 16, 2021

Census time

Editorial

 
April 16, 2021

The national census is an exercise that we should be conducting every 10 years. Pakistan conducted the last census after a break of 19 years in 2017. Then it took over three-and-a-half years for the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to finally approve the census results. The delay was essentially the result of the controversy generated after the census in 2017. Various segments of society and political groups did not consider the census results to be above board. With the recent approval of the controversial results, albeit with major reservations still by parties such as the PPP and the MQM, the CCI has taken the decision to start the process for a fresh census by the end of this year. The government is planning to use the new census results as the basis for the 2023 general elections in the country. The main problem with the 2017 census results was that Sindh did not accept them as reliable. Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab did not have any major objection against the last census – though there have been concerns raised by parties in these provinces. Since the CCI is a body with constitutional decision-making powers, it was in the fitness of things that the meeting decided to accommodate the reservations of Sindh and made the decision to conduct a new census so that there could be no reservation from any side.

The last census became a focus of disagreements, so there was a need to rectify provincial reservations and the best way forward was to hold a new census. With this background it will be of utmost importance that the seventh national population census takes place to the entire satisfaction of all stakeholders. Now the plan is to start the process by October this year, but there should not be an undue haste that may result in another controversial exercise. There has to be a comprehensive framework and the next CCI must be able to approve that framework, failing which there will be a high possibility of the provinces not owning the framework.

Since the census exercise takes at least 18 months to complete and then even more time to compile and approve the result, it is highly unlikely that before the next elections the entire process will be complete with all the required approvals. There is no need to tie the next general elections with the census as they may result in the delay in the conduct of the elections. Moreover, there will be a need of around 25 billion rupees for the census and with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging and resulting in further financial constraints that much amount may be difficult to arrange in time. All these are serious issues to consider.