ISLAMABAD: After overruling its objections, the Supreme Court has ordered the registrar’s office to fix before the court a petition of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) in which the party has questioned the results of 2017 census.
While hearing an appeal in his chambers, Justice Mushir Alam ordered the registrar’s office to fix the matter in due course of time. The office had earlier returned the petition with objections.
Moved through president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association Salahuddin Ahmed on Oct 22 last year on behalf of MQM’s convenor Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and other leaders like Amir Khan, Kanwar Naveed Jamil, Waseem Akhtar, Faisal Sabzwari, Hamidul Zafar and Muhammad Jawed Hanif Khan, the joint petition had pleaded for conduct of a fresh and transparent census in Sindh, especially its urban centres such as Karachi and Hyderabad.
During the hearing, Advocate Salahuddin Ahmed argued before Justice Alam that if the notification for national census was issued by the Council of Common Interests (CCI), the purpose of the petition would be frustrated and the people of Sindh would be “seriously prejudiced”.
The petition contended that CCI and the federal government should be restrained from publishing or notifying the final results of the 2017 census.
Also, the federal government should be ordered by the apex court to get five per cent of the census data audited in a random manner through a reliable third party to ascertain the accuracy and quality of the census exercise in Sindh.
The petition said the authorities’ failure to carry out a fair and accurate census had violated the fundamental rights of the people, especially those of urban Sindh, as enshrined in Articles 9, 17, 25, 25-A, 27 and 28 of the Constitution, as well as the Principles of State Policy enumerated in Articles 33 to 39.
Highlighting discrepancies in the 2017 provisional census, the petition said the exercise was rendered questionable as it showed a “massive and counter-intuitive” decline in the population growth rate in the urban blocks of Sindh.
The country’s average annual population growth rate from 1981 to 1998 was 2.69 per cent but in comparison, for the same period, the average population growth rate for Sindh’s urban blocks was 3.52pc and for the rural blocks it was 2.19pc.
Karachi by itself made up the major share of the urban population of Sindh, the petition said, adding it was clear from the data that until 1998 the population growth rate for urban areas of Sindh far outstripped the rest of Pakistan and rural areas of Sindh.
In Karachi’s peculiar context, numerous reports, papers, articles and studies have pointed to the massive increase in migration to Karachi from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, tribal areas merged with that province and even Afghanistan after the events of 9/11 and the war on terror, as well as from rural areas of Sindh, during the first decade of the 21st century.
Astonishingly, however, the provisional results of the 2017 census showed that from 1998 to 2017, the average growth rate for Pakistan had declined to 2.40pc while the average growth rate for rural areas of Sindh had increased slightly to 2.36pc but the average growth rate of urban areas in Sindh — by way of stark contrast — had declined by 1.06pc to 2.46pc.
According to the census data, while the Tharparkar district had seen a growth of 3.15pc and Jamshoro district a growth of 2.85pc, Hyderabad district had witnessed a substantially smaller growth of 2.05pc and the entire Karachi division had only seen a 2.60pc growth.
In other words, Karachi had grown slower than even the rural areas of Sindh and the rest of Pakistan and that there had practically been no net migration to Karachi during the last 20 years, according to the census results.
The MQM-P’s petition contended that the “deliberate undercounting of Karachi’s population” was also reflected in the “unique and unprecedented decline in population” in the Aram Bagh and Saddar areas of Karachi, as per the provisional census.
Any citizen of Karachi could testify to the fact that there had been no population decline in these areas, rather the population had grown exponentially as bungalows had been replaced by high-rise residential towers, the petition said.
The census process was defective also because it failed to count and include the refugees and illegal migrants in Karachi. Whatever the legal status of such persons, it could not be denied that they consume valuable public resources and goods, the petition pointed out.
The policymakers were effectively clueless about the massive illegal populations — including Afghan, Bengali, and Burmese migrants — most of whom reside in urban Sindh and particularly Karachi, the petition said.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2021