Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday expressed surprise over a debate regarding family planning and its connection to religion, wondering "what the nation had gotten itself into".
Is the country capable of supporting seven children per family, he asked. "The rate at which the population is growing in the country is [no less than] a bomb."
Also read: Exploding population bomb
A three-member Supreme Court (SC) bench, headed by the CJP and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was hearing a suo motu case pertaining to increasing population in the country.
Commenting on Justice Nisar's remark about whether birth control is allowed in religion or not, Justice Bandial said that "there are relevant verses in the Holy Quran regarding [there being a] gap between children".
During today's hearing, the health secretary told the court that the government did not have a monitoring system in place to regulate health centres or keep records of the growth in the country's population.
He said that in Indonesia — the country with the largest Muslim population in the world — authorities held an awareness campaign in mosques to educate the population about the importance of population control.
The representative from Punjab Population Welfare Department (PWD), however, argued that during the 1970-80s, the growth rate of population was 3.7 per cent, whereas now it had fallen to 2.4pc. He added that the government "cannot stop anyone from having kids".
The CJP said that 2,100 welfare centres in Punjab had "zero performance" and plans were only on paper.
When asked about the budget allocated to the welfare centres, the Punjab deputy secretary responded that in addition to the Rs3.6 billion that is provided by the Public Sector Development Programme, the department receives around Rs1.5 billion annually.
The CJP demanded representatives from the Population Welfare Department to tell the court about the policies formed by the government to control population growth and criticised them for "receiving salaries for doing nothing".
He said that the country does not have the resources to feed so many people and added that a single policy must be implemented throughout Pakistan.
Expressing concern over the ballooning population, Justice Nisar said that the authorities need to take immediate action to control the situation. He ordered all stakeholders of the case to submit recommendations to the court and adjourned the hearing for a while.
Following the adjournment, the top court issued directions for the formation of two separate bodies to devise a uniform policy to control the country's population.
A committee led by former principal secretary to the prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad was tasked with preparing a report within 15 days and submitting it in the court.
Meanwhile, the attorney general was directed to form a task force that will submit its recommendations in the shape of a report within three weeks.
According to last year's census provisional results, Pakistan has a population of 207.8 million — a 57 per cent increase since the last census in 1998.
The latest population census has shown that Pakistan has moved up the ladder becoming the fifth most populous nation only behind India, China, the United States and Indonesia.