PLANNING for the country’s first-ever digital census set to be conducted in August appears to be in full swing. Switching to modern methods, if the exercise goes as planned, will help reduce rampant gerrymandering, end delimitation disputes in Karachi that are often responsible for ethnic tensions, clarify the resource distribution landscape and make financial needs and allocations more transparent. It will also provide insight into the country’s other demographic woes. According to the census road map revealed by Planning Minister Asad Umar, the headcount this year would be conducted on an ‘as is where is’ basis. This means that the requirement for possessing a CNIC in order to be counted has been waived. People will be counted as residents of the city or town they have lived in for the past six months. At least theoretically this seems like a workable method for obtaining a more accurate estimate of the number of people residing in large cities that continuously receive migrants from smaller towns — though factors such as the constant movement of families travelling from urban centres to their native villages would have to be factored in. Inter-provincial migration challenges are most pronounced in Karachi, where politicians often accuse each other of doctoring the census results. Meanwhile, the number of languages used in the census forms has been increased from five to 10. Mr Umar appears confident that the census data would be released by the end of the year, with plenty of time for the results to guide the next electoral exercise.
One aspect that remains unclear is the role of the National Database Registration Authority in the census. Nadra’s mention in news reports on consultations among various government departments is conspicuous by its absence. Even without the requirement of CNICs for this census, Nadra’s data can be used to verify or cross-check any potential irregularities in the upcoming headcount. Moreover, detailed census information can also be used at a later stage to remove discrepancies and irregularities from Nadra’s data and improve its record-keeping.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2022