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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ordered the registration of persons with disabilities separately under the ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘transgender’ categories in the ongoing population census.

A three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, also directed the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) to implement a Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict, which directed the federal government to count disabled persons in a separate column.

On Wednesday, the Lahore High Court had ordered the federal government and PBS to amend forms being used in the population census to include persons with disabilities in the headcount exercise by including a specific column for disabled persons.

The petition was filed by six persons with disabilities, seeking apex court directives to the federal government to categorise the types, causes, duration and severity of each individual’s disabilities.

Census commissioner says paucity of time, resources necessitated staggering of data collection process

Following the court’s directions, enumerators would register categories such as ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘transgender’, ‘special male’, ‘special female’ and ‘special transgender’ in the relevant form for census.

During Thursday’s proceedings, CJP Nasir asked Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa about the steps taken to count persons with disabilities in the population census form.

Mr Bajwa submitted that Form 2-A was being used for the current headcount, adding that a separate green form would be issued to gather information about disabled persons and transgender individuals three months after the ongoing census.

He said the reason for not issuing two different forms was a lack of manpower and shortage of time, adding that the availability of army personnel was limited to a ten-day period, so it was not possible to collect data for both forms in one go.

The petitioners also moved a miscellaneous application, requesting the apex court to direct the concerned departments to ensure the collection of necessary data on the incidence of disability and ensure the proper identification of persons with disabilities, documenting impairments and categorising types, causes, duration and severity of the disabilities.

The petition stated that during the course of consultations with PBS, the petitioners were assured that the appropriate forms would contain questions in this regard.

“This was reflected in an earlier copy of the questionnaire generated by PBS and shared with the petitioners and called ‘Form 2’. However, the most recent version of the form excluded all such questions for collecting information about persons with disabilities,” said the petition. “It only deals with queries pertaining to demographic details of households.”

The petitioners contended that such omissions in ‘Form 2’ meant that the census would actually be limited to a “headcount” exercise and crucial information for addressing various social challenges, such as assisting persons with disabilities, would once again not be collected and, therefore, remain unavailable.

The petitioners contended that the paucity of reliable data in this regard largely obstructed effective enforcement of laws or policies intended to assist persons with disabilities.

According to them, if lawmakers and administrative functionaries continued to work with outdated data, they would continue to remain unaware of the actual number of people who needed specific intervention, treatment, training and rehabilitation.

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2017