ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has delayed the launch of the country’s first-ever digital census by a month, citing “unavoidable circumstances” and “ground realities”.

The seventh population and housing census, earlier scheduled for Feb 1, will now begin from March 1 and will continue for a month, the bureau said.

Meeting this timeline will also depend on the availability of funds for the project. The amount allocated for this exercise is around Rs22bn.

In October 2021, the previous government gave the go-ahead to the digital census and scheduled its launch for the same month in 2022, which was then deferred to February 2023. The PBS will have to submit the data on April 30.

In an official announcement issued on Tuesday, the PBS said the decision to delay the field operation was taken in the meeting of the census monitoring committee held on Jan 17. The meeting was chaired by Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal and attended by all members of relevant departments and the director general of military operations.

Background discussions and interviews of relevant stakeholders suggest that the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had purchased all 126,000 tablets required for the exercise and had configured them with its software. As many as 121,000 individuals have been given the tablets.

The portal that can enumerate data will also be ready in the next couple of weeks. The individuals can submit their data online. Both hardware- and software-related work has been completed ahead of the field operation.

The training of master trainers and trainers was concluded last month. The training of enumerators was imparted during January 7-21.

The reasons for the delays are both procedural and political. In both cases, the benefit goes to the incumbent government, as a delayed census allows it to complete the remaining tenure until August this year.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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