KARACHI: Just a day after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif assured coalition partners of steps to address their concerns over the digital census process, the key partners in the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government on Thursday came up with their tough stances with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) warning that any count of Karachi population below 40 million would not be acceptable to it and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) expressing serious concerns over its “fairness and transparency” announced to set up a party cell to gather complaints against the massive exercise.

First, it was MQM-P leader Dr Farooq Sattar who pointed out “basic flaws” in the whole design of the national census and demanded the authorities concerned to take notice of loopholes identified by the party.

He also questioned the calculation under which Karachi was distributed in 16,000 blocks for the population count.

“There should be no fewer than 27,000 blocks in Karachi for the census,” he said while addressing a press conference at the party’s temporary headquarters in Bahadurabad.

“And make one thing very clear. The population of Karachi is more than 40 million. Any attempt or exercise, that results in the total number of population of the city below 40 or 42 million, would not be accepted by the MQM-P. Anyone who lives and earns in this city must be counted as number of Karachi population.”

The MQM-P leader criticised the political parties for “ignoring” the crucial census and most of them were paying attention to politics of the upcoming elections and the current crisis in Islamabad.

He invited all the parties in Karachi to design a joint strategy for a fair count of the city population.

He also accused the PPP-led Sindh government of facilitating the “manoeuvring” of the Karachi population number and referred to reports, which claimed that deputy commissioner of one of the districts had strictly directed the census staff to not to count children below five years.

“Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui [the MQM-P convenor] has recently held a meeting with the prime minister,” said Dr Sattar.

“He has assured us of addressing our concerns, which we appreciate. But we have things on ground that every attempt is being made to make this exercise disputed. Whether it’s federal government, provincial government or district administration, everyone has to be fair in this process. We would question everyone if something goes wrong.”

The PPP on the other hand came up with other concerns on the exercise.

In a statement issued after the party meeting chaired by the Sindh Labour and Human Resource Minister, Saeed Ghani, who is also its Karachi chapter president, it expressed “serious reservations” on the digital census in Karachi and demanded that the process to count the population of the city “should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner”.

“It is the responsibility of every concerned quarter in Sindh that the population of the province is accurately counted,” it said. “The PPP Karachi Division also decided to establish a cell to receive complaints against the newly launched digital census campaign. The census should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner in order to determine the population of Sindh in an accurate manner.”

Mr Ghani addressing the meeting said that the delimitation of constituencies would also be carried out in a valid manner after a fair census drive. The fiscal share of a province in the National Finance Commission award, he said, was also determined on the basis of the population count.

“The PPP had vocally raised objections against the flawed census drive of 2017 as the issue was raised at the Council of Common Interests and other relevant forums. The PPP should also be given the credit that a fresh census was being conducted in the country merely after five years instead of the stipulated time of 10 years,” the statement quoted Mr Ghani as saying.

PPP Sindh General Secretary Senator Waqar Mehdi, while addressing a meeting, said that an awareness campaign should be conducted to let the people know about the benefits of the census drive. In this regard, a special campaign should be conducted to make household women know of the benefits of the census, he added.

Meanwhile, Sindh governor Kamran Khan Tessori was confident that issues being raised by different political parties would be resolved. Talking to reporters while inaugurating seventh census at the Governor House, he suggested the role of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for fairness of the process.

“There should be a mechanism for masses to check with Nadra, whether they have been counted or not,” he suggested.

“The Nadra may be approached to ensure the same option. Entry of correct data is essential as judicious distribution of resources is dependent on the same. As the digital census is being held for the first time, various issues are being faced which would be resolved.”

The governor said that he has asked census commissioner to ensure that each and every person in the province must be counted while non-Pakistani nationals should also be counted and registered separately.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2023

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