ISLAMABAD: The main opposition, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), has protested against the government’s attempt to get the census results validated from the Council of Common Interests (CCI), terming it a violation of the agreement in which the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had agreed to conduct a third-party audit of five per cent of the population blocks.

In a statement issued on Saturday, former PPP senator Taj Haider expressed serious concerns over the government’s decision to convene a meeting of the CCI on Sunday (today) in which the officials of the Statistics Division are expected to present the summary of the final results of the population census conducted last year.

Mr Haider, who is a signatory to the agreement as the parliamentary leader of the PPP, said Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had presided over the meeting in which the agreement was signed, and Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq had guaranteed that it would be followed in “letter and spirit”.

The government had recently decided in principle to announce the final results of the sixth population census without a third-party audit before transferring power to the caretaker regime next week.

Concern expressed over government decision to convene CCI’s meeting today

So far, no agenda of the CCI meeting, which may be the last meeting of the constitutional body under Prime Minister Abbasi, has been issued. However, sources said that it was expected to give final approval to the results of the sixth National Housing and Population Census conducted in March-May 2017.

An official of the Statistics Division said they had recommended conclusively to the prime minister that the 5pc post-enumeration third-party validation was no more viable because a long time had passed after the original exercise began on March 15 and concluded on May 25, 2017.

As per international standards, post-enumeration surveys and validation could be conducted within two months, preferably within the first 30 days. In large and diverse nations like Pakistan, a lot of migrations take place from one region to another and from one province to another owing to changing cropping requirements, weather conditions and change in livelihood conditions from rural to urban and vice versa. Therefore, the prime minister was advised that since a year had lapsed, the final census results should be made public and data centres opened to researchers, experts and stakeholders for related data mining.

Though the prime minister was reportedly disappointed by the delays, he eventually conceded to the Statistics Division’s arguments, he said, adding that the prime minister could not take a unilateral decision and had hence asked for the matter to be placed before the CCI.

With the approval of the CCI, the government announced the provisional results of the sixth census that put the country’s population at 207.77 million with an annual growth rate of 2.4pc. These showed a 57pc increase in the country’s population since the last census held in 1998, with Islamabad Capital Territory exhibiting the highest population growth rate of 4.91pc. Among the provinces, the highest growth rate of 3.37pc was seen in Balochistan, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 2.89pc, Sindh 2.41pc and Punjab 2.13pc. The country’s total population was 132.35m in 1998.

The PPP and Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) had protested over the census findings and even termed them “fraudulent”.

Senator Haider had said the gross understatement of the population in Sindh and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) had not only deprived them of true representation in elected houses, and their share in divisible resources and job quotas, but also cut at the roots of the federation by insulting the consensus reached in the Senate.

“The fraudulent de-jure method employed in Census 2017 records migrants in their provinces of origin and does not count illegal residents at all,” he said, adding that the non-provision of employment opportunities in three provinces of the country had pushed more than 20m migrant workers to Sindh.

“The exclusion of all migrants and illegal residents in Sindh from its population is going to cost a reduction of an average of 50bn per year from the Federal Divisible Pool in Sindh’s share during the next 10 years,” he said.

Mr Haider said a united stand of smaller provinces in rejecting the summary of the Statistics Division and upholding the commitment to the nation of recount in five per cent blocks, on the forum of the CCI would go a long way in strengthening the Federation and protecting the constitutional rights of the smaller provinces.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2018