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The government announced its decision to hold the census in March this year. — Courtesy PBS facebook page
The government announced its decision to hold the census in March this year. — Courtesy PBS facebook page

KARACHI: A mammoth census exercise scheduled to be completed by March next year looks likely to be delayed, or even scrapped altogether.

The government announced its decision to hold the census in March this year. But five months later, Asif Bajwa, Director General of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) – the government body tasked with carrying out the exercise – confirms that “no funds have been released thus far” for the year-long exercise.

A highly-placed source at the finance ministry in Islamabad says the federal government is debating whether to scrap the census altogether. Instead, the government is weighing the merits of using population data from the Nadra database for planning and future resource distribution, according to the source.

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The census exercise had a budget allocation of Rs14.5 billion, out of which Rs6.9bn was budgeted for the PBS and Rs7.4bn was for the army for security and facilitation.

According to the finance ministry source, the PBS had budgeted Rs646 million for utilisation during the first quarter, Rs532m during the second, Rs5.8bn during the third and Rs66m during the fourth quarter. The second quarter was to begin in October, without any provision of funds thus far, meaning the exercise has not even begun in earnest.

In the second meeting to review preparations for the exercise, held on April 2 with Asif Bajwa in the chair, some decisions were taken regarding the schedule for the census, including an updated frame for rural areas.

“The big mauzas may be surveyed and blocks updated up to September 2015 with GPS device and with the help of 50 teams”, read the minutes of that meeting. There are 1500 mauzas with more than eight blocks each, and surveying them with 50 teams means 240 blocks will need to be surveyed by each team. The exercise could take many months to complete.

Decisions were also taken for urban areas, including making digitised urban area maps which “should be completed in the next three months”. That was back in early April.

Today, at the start of September, by when all this and more was already supposed to have been completed; the chief statistician admits that he is still waiting for the first instalment of funds to be released. “We hope to receive the first tranche some time next week,” he adds.

The long delay in the release of the funds is because of a couple of factors, according to insiders. For one, the government has lost interest in its own announcement made in March, and there is nobody making a strong push to keep the exercise on track.

And secondly, some sections have been arguing that the Nadra database is good enough for most policy purposes and a vast and sprawling census exercise is not necessary.

“When requisite data is available with Nadra it is hardly a national priority to waste billions over census, that too with budget deficits compounded by monsoons and IMF breathing down our neck,” says the source in Islamabad.

But the Nadra database is a poor substitute for census data, says Haris Gazdar, senior research fellow at the Collective for Social Science Research in Karachi, which conducts regular social policy researches. He points out that although Nadra registration has become mandatory for adult citizens, there remain major gaps in the database. A lot of poorer and marginalised people, particularly women are still outside the Nadra database. Use of Nadra data will bias analysis and policy-making against those who are the poorest and most vulnerable to begin with. It will disadvantage regions where registration is low.

“While Nadra ‘B-form’ is supposed to include family data, reporting of births and deaths is even less comprehensive than adult registration. Once again the bias will be against the poorest and the most marginalised” if Nadra data is used as a substitute for census data, Haris Gazdar points out.

If that was not enough, using citizen’s right to privacy as an excuse, Nadra databases are kept in extreme secrecy thus remaining inaccessible to planners, researchers, academics and sociologists.

A census is a massive exercise and must be held every ten years according to the constitution. Census data plays a vital role in policy formulation, as well as execution of key state functions. It is used by the Election Commission for constituency reviews of national, provincial and local bodies’ elections. Federal resources are distributed under the National Finance Commission award on the basis of latest census figures. Provincial shares of seats in parliament are also decided on the basis of population share of the provinces. And population ratios provided by the latest census are used to establish the quota for federal jobs.

Additionally, the census provides planners a comprehensive understanding of the demography and socio-economic condition of the people in various parts of the country. The first four decennial censuses were held on time starting in 1951. The fifth census to be held in the country was scheduled for 1991 and finally conducted in 1998.

Absence of a census complicates many other tasks the state needs to complete. For example, former Secretary ECP, Kanwar Dilshad, says the main reason for the 2013 election fiasco was that the returning officers were required to get such a high number of ballot papers printed “because 2013 elections were conducted on the basis of an outdated census, without fresh delimitations”.

The PBS has been relegated to the status of a sub-department, headed by a retired federal secretary and other retired officials including a vice chancellor as members of its ‘governing council’ and a limited number of trained census staff. It needs major re-strengthening and reorganisation. To begin with fresh delimitations of census-blocks may be on order. But most importantly, greater autonomy with due representation from all four provinces and a reporting line going directly to the national parliament is needed. Any delay or scrapping of the census risks polarising the federation even further.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2015

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Comments (19) Closed

Nabeel Sep 01, 2015 07:27am

This is ridiculously stupid.... How is Planning Commission claiming to be doing the job? How is Finance Ministry claiming to be doing the right Budgeting. Wake up my country fellows; Even City States like Singapore and Dubai with Size so small don't ignore this critical aspect.

Satt Sep 01, 2015 08:44am

When I say there are more Muslims in India than Pakistan then Pakistani's deny.When asking for proof and record there is no record.So before you don't have record please don't say their are more Muslim's in Pakistan than India.

fitting Reply Sep 01, 2015 08:51am

Its important for a country to know some basic information about its populace.

Khan- Pakistani Sep 01, 2015 09:04am

Punjab will never hold census as it will change the whole dynamics of fair share, financial award and the allotment of national assembly and provincial assembly .

Azmeen Sep 01, 2015 09:21am

Though NADRA has record of all Pakistani people, CENSUS must be conducted for resource allocation. No short cuts.

Raja Sep 01, 2015 09:43am

6.9 billion for PBS and 7.4 billion to the army for security & facilitation!!! What kind of ratio is this?

absurd Sep 01, 2015 09:50am

This is unfortunate. I hope this is just delayed and not scrapped.

Till census happens again, no more lashing out at folks who say that population of minorities is decreasing not just percentage wise, but also numerically in Pakistan, not just since 1947, but even after forming of Bangladesh. Because now there is no official data on demographics, to prove otherwise to perform trend analysis.

Einstein Babar Sep 01, 2015 10:08am

@Satt who said that? I admit that there are more Muslims in India but does that make any difference or affect anything.

Cyrus Sep 01, 2015 10:13am

We don't know what we don't know.

Fazal Karim Sep 01, 2015 10:28am

Well if Nadra has all the record of population in the country, then why not publish it every year village, tehsil, town, province and country wise to enable planners to carryout their work in different fields. Demography of Sindh and Karachi is completely changed. Due to free for all land grabbing Sindhisa are no more in majority in Sindh. Similarly Urdu speaking people, vote bank of MQM are no more than one third of Karachi population. Urban rural quotas are changed. It should be 60 percent urban and 40 percent rural.

Shehzad Zafar Sep 01, 2015 10:31am

Census must be conducted immediately by stopping money on useless motorways. Karachi has seen massive population migration since paste fifteen years. NA seats should be alloted in this respect. If there are 25 million people living in Karachi then its sheats should be increased according to population. Also areas where people migrate towards karachi should have less NA seats according to its population.

EuroStar77 Sep 01, 2015 11:11am

Pew Research stated Pakistan to be the 5th largest nation, supassing Brazil, a couple of years ago with a population of 198 millions. Today Pakistan's population should be some where between 210-220 millions. It is worth spending money on this very important issue. How can government address development if they do not even know who to develop?

Ali Sep 01, 2015 11:36am

This is futile exercise, better spend that amount on moral support of Kashmir

sri Sep 01, 2015 12:23pm

@Ali u r suggesting another futile exercise..

saami Sep 01, 2015 01:08pm

most data base of NADRA is fictitious. The personnel working in these offices put in their own data, for example, they ask about your education, you tell them a Ph.D. He or she will write a tell them your address in a particular locality ,they will write their own choice.It is clear from scrutiny of votes of previous elections , most of thumb prints could not be verified.It is high time that this occasion must not be wasted on one or the other account.The collection of thorough information about population and the facilities missing is must.In the light such information proper planning may be done.

Friend Sep 01, 2015 01:46pm

If minority population in Pakistan on reduction trend than its worry some for India and immediately India need to take precautionary measures to keep Minority % in minority and not allow them to move towards majority.

Parvez Sep 01, 2015 01:54pm

Ask the Finance Ministry to come up with a figure......because in any case its going to be wrong.

AW Sep 01, 2015 02:13pm

Population census is crucial for policy making, but the ruling elite are not interested because they do not believe in making policies - they prefer to make decisions by the seats of their pants like self righteous kings used to make in the olden times

Jawad pak Sep 01, 2015 11:59pm

Pakistan how can u develop with arrogant uneducated leaders