AFTER lying in limbo for almost seven years, it looks like the census exercise is finally moving again.
The government’s announcement that the census will be held by March 2016 is a welcome development, and going by the work that is being assigned and the funds that have been allocated for the demographic exercise, it does seem as if a credible effort is finally getting under way.
The announcement of a date, as well as a budget and the National Census Apex Committee add some credibility to the venture.
Know more: Census in March next year
But at this early point, it is important to bear in mind that the delays have been caused because of powerful factors that are all too likely to challenge the execution of the census from an early stage.
Two sticking points are particularly important. One is the change in the seat share of each province in the National Assembly, which hinges on population data. The second relates to provincial shares in federal revenues, 82pc of which are weighted according to population.
Since the new census is likely to change the population share of the provinces, it is reasonable to suppose that each province stands to see its share of seats in the Assembly change in a way that will have far-reaching implications. This is also true for revenue-sharing.
At heart is the extent of in-migration in Sindh, which if accurately counted, would not only raise the province’s share of total population significantly, but also show that the internal ethnic composition of the province is changing in important ways.
Now that the ruling PML-N has decided to take on this conflicted exercise, it is its responsibility to execute the census in a way that allays the concerns of both the provinces and the political parties whose fate is tied up with the underlying population figures of the status quo.
It is also worth noting that this is the third such exercise the PML-N government has taken up in the year thus far, the other two being the NFC award and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, both of which also have powerful interprovincial politics revolving around them.
If the PML-N can successfully execute these jobs without stirring up a hornets’ nest of interprovincial issues, it stands to credibly put to rest the perception that it is a party that runs the affairs of the country with the interests of only one province in mind. But if it should trip on the way, it could give new life to allegations that it is a provincial party.
The choice now lies with the PML-N. It remains to be seen if the party is able to preside over contentious interprovincial issues in a manner that is perceived as fair and above reproach, and thereby establish itself as a worthy custodian of national issues. One can only wish the government the best.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2015