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Doubting the census

Published Mar 20, 2017 01:25am

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NOW that the census has begun in earnest, it is important for observers to bear in mind that it is too late to start asking for additional items to be included in the list of data that is being gathered. There has been an entire process for preparing the form, and for weeks leading up to the exercise there was an open debate focusing on what is and what is not to be included, with representatives from the provincial governments participating in the conversation. Many in the media, including this newspaper, argued that removing Form 2A from the exercise was a mistake, but none in government or opposition bothered to look into the matter. Now that 55m forms have been printed, and a system has been agreed upon through which to gather the data, a number of politicians have suddenly started issuing proclamations about what is and is not being counted in the census. Functionaries of the state are not errand boys to be tasked at whim, and the census exercise is certainly not a shopping list.

It is true that the credibility of the data is essential for the exercise to be meaningful. But now that the process has been launched, the only way to ensure it is credible is for the provincial governments to set up complaint centres where people can report malpractices. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics says people should report any malpractice, but there is little information on where these ought to be reported. Second, the credibility of the data will become obvious when it is placed next to data from the previous census and glaring discrepancies are seen, such as how the population shares change between the provinces, and how the ethnic composition of certain provinces alters. While the process is under way, there is little point to issuing statements that evince dissatisfaction at the absence of certain preferred data points, or that ask for the duplication of forms (‘carbon copies’) for verification after the exercise. There was ample time for making those preferences known in the weeks leading up to the exercise, and simply politicising the process at this point will prove counterproductive. An imperfect census is still better than no census at all, and it has taken a lot of prodding to get to even this point. Greater care should now be exercised when issuing statements that cast a pall of uncertainty over the results.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2017

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Comments (7) Closed



LIFE Mar 20, 2017 08:19am

I do not agree with the statement that an imperfect census is better than no census. This is not a fun excercise. There are high stakes involved. The census will result in government allocation of budget, NFC awards, planning and most importantly the demarcation of constituencies. An imperfect census will undermine all the future tasks and deprive the provinces and ethnicities for their due share. If the census is flawed it should be stopped at once and the concerned planners should be fired and fined for not thoughtfully included all the required census point.

Zeeshan Ahmad Mar 20, 2017 01:46pm

I wonder no one brought up the idea of conducting census through digital technology! No one? I mean in this age of technology, we printed 55M forms each consisting several pages and then we would take months and years to consolidate the information?

Just Someone Mar 20, 2017 02:28pm

@LIFE : Assuming that the errors are random, an imperfect census would still be statistically good because all the errors will balance out. Only if the census is conducted in bad faith, and systematically manipulated, then the results of the imperfect census differ from a perfect census by a reasonable amount.

Just Someone Mar 20, 2017 02:31pm

@Zeeshan Ahmad: May be this can be done in the next census and the enumerators can be given tablets and finger print verification devices.

Fudayl Z. Ahmad Mar 20, 2017 03:37pm

@Zeeshan Ahmad yours is exactly the kind of criticism that this editorial is about. It is just too late to come out with criticism of this nature, but yours seems like a good suggestion for the future. Maybe for the next time, the whole process could be digitalized and also linked appropriate with NADRA records.

imran ali Mar 20, 2017 11:21pm

once again there is conspiracy to fudge the figure from urban sindh.Many houses still unmarked and apartment shown as one unit

Akil Akhtar Mar 21, 2017 03:54am

We have politicians who are only interested in their selfish personal interests and do not care what chaos they create as a result...