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ISLAMABAD: The Coun­cil of Common Interests (CCI) held its second meeting in a month on Friday, with the population census on top of the agenda. Yet again, it failed to arrive at a precise time for conducting the long-overdue population count.

This time too, the government took the stand that due to non-availability of the required number of armed forces personnel to conduct the census in one go, its hands were tied.

This view was contradicted by a senior security official. According to him, it was easy to shift responsibility onto the military establishment, when in fact, “it is a political decision which for some reason the federal government is finding difficult to make”.

Under the law, a census must be carried out once every ten years. The last census was held in 1998.

Effect on elections: With the postponement of the census, which was earlier scheduled for March and April, analysts are of the view that the possibility of holding the next general election on the basis of a fresh population count is negligible.

“If the census starts today, it would take around six to eight months to finalise the results. And then there would have to be fresh demarcation of constituencies,” said a senior serving government official. The next general elections are due in May 2018.

Distribution of national and provincial assembly seats, job quota in federal departments and determination of the National Finance Commission award are done on the basis of the provinces’ population.

Till further notice: Friday’s was the 29th meeting of the CCI, held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The official statement released after the sitting said the issue of census was discussed in detail.

“The secretary of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) informed the participants that as per the decision taken in the previous CCI meeting on Feb 29, a series of meetings were held with provincial governments and the armed forces. It was informed that since transparency of census operation was vital for future planning, around 300,000 troops are required to ensure man-to-man coverage as well as lend credibility and security to the operation,” the statement reads.

The meeting was informed that due to the engagement of the armed forces in Zarb-i-Azb, the required number of troops cannot be spared at the moment. Likewise, it said, the option of having a phased census was also discussed. However, the meeting was briefed by PBS that a phased census was not desirable due to inherent flaws that can raise serious contentions regarding the credibility of the exercise.

It was, therefore, unanimously decided that the census be postponed and a fresh date be finalised after consulting the provincial governments and the armed forces.

The CCI meeting also discussed the National Flood Protection Plan. All the stakeholders unanimously decided to constitute a committee, comprising the four chief ministers, the Federal Minister for Water and Power and the Federal Minister for Climate Change, to finalise the plan.

The meeting was attended by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Pir Sadruddin Shah Rashidi, Minister of States and Frontier Regions Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid, Minister for IPC Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the chief ministers, provincial chief secretaries and other senior government officers.

Talking to Dawn, a participant of the meeting said that Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah suggested using Rangers personnel for the census in his province. Mr Shah was even for a phased census, but his proposal was shot down by the PBS. However, the meeting decided to conduct the census within the current year.

Kalabagh Dam: According to a statement issued by the CM House in Karachi, the “principled stand” taken by the Sindh chief minister compelled the prime minister to shelve the proposal to construct the Kalabagh and Akhori Dams.

Mr Shah said that the Kalabagh Dam had already been rejected by the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments and assemblies. “This flood plan seems to have been worked out by the bureaucracy, otherwise the Minister for Water and Power, being a political person would not have approved it for the CCI meeting,” he said, adding that the 1991 Water Accord has no provision for the construction of new reservoirs or dams.

Mr Asif argued that floods were continuously inflicting damage to the country and the only way to conserve flood water was by constructing reservoirs.

Mr Shah contested this stand by pointing out that except the 2010 floods and heavy rains of 2011, the country had not witnessed any major flood during the last five years. “Various districts of Sindh, including Tharparkar, are facing a drought-like situation,” he said. “In such circumstances, how can the construction of a new reservoir or dam be allowed merely on the assumption of floods?” he questioned.—Habib Khan Ghori contributed to this report from Karachi.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2016