I AM puzzled by the role/non-role assigned to Nadra in times of Covid-19. At the start of the pandemic in early 2020, the National Command Operation Centre was set up and linked to Nadra to record all Covid-related data. This helped the authorities plan ‘smart lockdowns’ strategically according to the prevalence of cases in various localities. The dilemma began with the start of the vaccination campaign. The related data was also linked to Nadra and only CNIC bearers were vaccinated and their records saved.
It was then asked, what about those without a CNIC? For all practical purposes the non-CNIC holders do not exist. This has implications for every sector of national life, including public health. The unvaccinated continue to be vulnerable and also pose a risk to others. But who cares? Certainly not the government. Even now, public announcements on vaccination do not mention non-CNIC holders.
Mercifully, one caring doctor noticed the anomaly in the situation and acted. She is Dr Seemi Jamali, until August 2021 the director of JPMC, Karachi. Dr Jamali made arrangements for those without CNICs to be vaccinated at her hospital. Hats off to her. WHO recognised her services to the cause of Covid victims by naming her as one of the nine Global Heroes (of Covid).
In this narrative, Nadra emerges as the villain of the piece. Introduced by Prime minister Z.A. Bhutto in 1973, the NIC, or national identity card, was meant to draw the country out of the ‘utter darkness’ brought on by the absence of a statistical database. The NIC survived for over two decades in the pre-digital age. It was not a perfect system and delays and flawed information were frequently encountered. In 1999 came Nadra and the data was computerised. Thus its potential for accuracy and efficiency was enhanced. But it fell short of public expectations due to alleged corruption, lack of foresight and failure to create awareness of the importance of documentation. We continue to live in a state of utter statistical darkness.
The government cannot ignore those without CNICs.
Today, procedures as well as the failure to create the supporting infrastructure have largely robbed the CNIC of its credibility.
It is not known exactly how many in Pakistan have a CNIC and how much of the information provided is authentic. Even if we believe Nadra’s claim in 2012 that 96 per cent of adults are registered, roughly four million people are not. While some of them are illegal immigrants, others are sons of the soil but do not possess the requisite documents for a CNIC. This is nothing odd in a society where literacy levels are low and birth/death certificates and nikahnamas are no more than a slip of paper to be tossed away. The government doesn’t help by dispersing registration facilities all over the country. This is shocking in a country where for every activity one needs a CNIC — be it school admission, land transactions, opening a bank account or foreign travel.
In a health emergency, as we face today, the government in its wisdom has ignored the non-CNIC holders. All it needed to do was to get Nadra to create a new category to allow such people to be vaccinated.
I am baffled by the government’s ambivalence vis-à-vis data collection. We had a census after 19 years in 2017 and its results are being challenged and there is talk of a new census. Nadra is said to be issuing cards to people on the basis of allegedly fake ‘bay forms’.
It is time the government pulled up its socks and addressed these dichotomies in earnest. As for Nadra, it should update its records (birth, death, marriage) annually on its website. All those without CNICs should be registered under a separate category whereby they get access to all non-political/economic entitlements such as healthcare, education and poverty alleviation measures.
Nadra should provide reliable data if it is to lead the country out of the darkness we find ourselves in. Data must be updated regularly. Only then will its purpose be served as other organisations requiring such information will also be able to use this data for their own planning and in individual cases to check tax evasion. It would encourage transparency and allow various agencies to counter-check data with each other.
The numbers game has political and economic implications as well. On the numbers depend electoral seats and parliamentary strength and the distribution of taxes and other resources among the provinces.
The census has already been politicised and has lost its credibility. With Nadra and the census organisation functioning as two different agencies it would definitely help if their data were compared to check the latter’s veracity. If there is a major discrepancy, the matter would call for immediate attention. In fact, even areas where the counting may have gone wrong could be identified and a recount conducted.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2022