Census and sensibility

April 9, 2023

Citizens share accounts of their interaction with the teams of enumerators visiting them for the 7th Digital Housing and Population Census

Response from the common citizens has been mixed at best. — Photo by Rahat Dar
Response from the common citizens has been mixed at best. — Photo by Rahat Dar


eputy Commissioner of Lahore Rafia Haider recently announced that the data of 1,888,849 houses in Lahore had been gathered under the 7th Digital Housing and Population Census. Census teams have been going from door to door, working to complete the humongous task. But the feedback from the citizens on their experience with the teams is mixed at best.

Hammad Hussain, a resident of an upscale apartment on Bedian Road, Defence, says that a census worker visited their place and persuaded him to record the family data online. “I refused to do so, because of privacy concerns and the complicated procedure involved. After a bit of resistance, he started noting details of our family that are already there in NADRA’s record.

“I see asking for personal information such as my mobile phone number, email address, property details etc as a trespass on privacy,” Hussain says.

He feared that the data might end up with a third party that could then misuse it. “My personal life has already been affected by the unauthorised use of a mobile phone number.”

Hussain, who hails from Karachi, mentions a lack of trust shown by the urban population in Sindh regarding the authenticity of the census data. “People feel that their representations would be diminished and rights violated if population is not recorded accurately.”

Hassan Jatt, a resident of Muhafiz Town on Canal Road, is upset at not being mentioned as owner of his house by the data collector. He says his tenant living on the ground has been mentioned as the landlord instead. “How come the people who have rentd a part of the house were made owners of the house? When I later spotted the data collector, I confronted him. He said that it wasn’t possible to change record.”

You can be mentioned in the records as a sub-family of the main occupants. Instead, the enumerator suggested that Jatt try filling their credentials afresh online.

Muhammad Lateef has a sadder story to tell. He lives in a rented house in Marrian, near Model Town. He says no one has visited his place so far. According to him, the census team met his landlord but did not reach out to him for any information about him/ his family.

A resident of Muhafiz Town on Canal Road was upset at not being mentioned as the owner of his house by the data collector. He said his tenant living on ground floor was mentioned as landlord.

Lateef’s problem may have to do with the policy to record data at people’s usual place of residence or on a de jure basis. Nevertheless, Lateef and some other people living in rented houses feel alienated.

Haris Chaudhry, a resident of Model Town Extension, says two back-to-back visits by the same female staff were brief and meant only to collect their CNIC numbers. During her first visit, the lady only noted down the CNIC number of his father but did not fill out a form in print or digitally. On her second visit, she noted down the code his father had received after he entered data online. The data was primarily derived from NADRA’s records.

A CNIC is imperative for collection and verification of data.— Photo by Rahat Dar
A CNIC is imperative for collection and verification of data.— Photo by Rahat Dar


here has been some positive feedback too. Muhammad Luqman, a resident of PIA Housing Society, seemed satisfied with the census exercise. He said his information had been obtained digitally through a handheld device.

He was quite upbeat about the outcome of the counting exercise. However, he said that people needed to be told that the CNIC plays an important part in collecting and verifying data about their families. “The identity card is absolutely necessary in the sense that constituencies are based on the census and the people in the constituencies vote on the basis of their identity cards,” he said.

The fate of the Census seems to hang in the balance. Reassuring measures are needed to address the apprehensions of all citizens.

If the controversy persists the National Census 2023 may end up being a futile exercise like the 2017 census which was also marred by reservations and allegations of under-enumeration.

The writer is a senior reporter at The News

Census and sensibility