KARACHI: The Sindh Assembly on Monday passed with a majority vote a resolution against the flaws in ongoing digital census amid strong protest by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Grand Democratic Alliance.

As Irrigation Minister Jam Khan Shoro sought Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani’s permission to table the resolution during the pre-budget discussion, the PTI and GDA members started shouting and taking jibes at the treasury members for expressing reservations on the census being conducted by the Pakistan Democratic Movement-led coalition government of which the Pakistan Peoples Party was one of the major partners.

The opposition members said that the PPP was part of the coalition government at the centre yet it was asking the federal government to ensure transparency in the census.

The charged members of the two opposition parties asked the chair to first complete the agenda of the day before taking up any supplementary item.

However, Speaker Durrani allowed the minister to move the resolution as the opposition members continued to shouting in protest and also tore the copies of the agenda.

Resolution adopted with majority votes; demands extension of self-enumeration, house count and headcount period

Amid ruckus, the irrigation minister tabled the resolution, expressing reservations over ongoing digital census and demanding transparency in the process. It was quickly adopted with the majority vote before the speaker adjourned the house to March 14.

Unlike the PTI and GDA, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan did not oppose the resolution

The resolution read that the seventh housing and population census should be carried out strictly in accordance with law, in a fair and transparent manner so as to reflect the genuine headcount of the people living in Pakistan.

Through the resolution, the Sindh Assembly expressed its reservations that sufficient publicity and media coverage had not been given to the exercise of digital census and the people of Sindh were kept in dark about outcome of the pilot census, which was conducted in July 2022.

“This House also expresses its serious reservations that despite start of census from 20th February 2023, no public official responsible from the government of Sindh has been provided access to the data set. Moreover, the dashboard is also not operational which casts serious doubt on the quality and quantity of enumeration,” the resolution read.

It added that the house was cognizant of the fact that the people of the Sindh were still recovering from the devastating floods in which 2.1 million homes were damaged, out of which 1.4 million houses were totally destroyed and the families misplaced.

“It is also not known how those devastated homes will be counted, marked and geo-tagged. Similarly, no mechanism has been shown with regards to seasonal migrations of considerable population that takes place in the Province of Sindh. The officers of district administration have also raised issues pertaining to flaws in block formation, inconsistencies in the provided maps and the on-ground situation. It is reported that many blocks are also not based on compact population,” it read.

The Sindh Assembly asked the provincial government to approach the federal government for extension in the date of self-enumeration, period for house count and headcount.

The resolution stated that in order to ensure transparency, a proper mechanism and coordination needed to be ensured between the federal government and all the provincial governments.

It was demanded that individual households should be given access to their own private information, which was being captured through the census exercise so that credibility was maintained and information was also corroborated from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra).

‘Inappropriate gesture’

Earlier, the members from the two sides of the aisle in their respective speeches during the pre-budget debate criticised each other’s leaderships instead of focusing on proposals and suggestions for the upcoming provincial budget.

The situation turned unpleasant when during his speech, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf MPA Firdous Shamim Naqvi took off his Sherwani and fez and also unbuttoned his collar to show solidarity with the people who he said had been hit hard by the inflation.

Naqvi’s gesture, however, was not welcomed by the chair and the treasury members, who termed it inappropriate asking the opposition lawmaker to button his collar.

The treasury members, mostly females, kept on shouting and condemning the gesture of the PTI member, though he explained that collar was opened in grief as per tradition.

“The greban is opened in great grief. Poor yearns for two meals a day and I feel pain that the poor sleeps hungry. I want to support the poor of Sindh through my gesture,” Mr Naqvi replied.

The PTI member pointed out to rising inflation and said that the prices of essential commodities had greatly increased.

He suggested that all such government lands which were cultivable should be given to poor farmers of the province.

Giving rejoinder in his speech, PPP’s Imdad Patafi also criticised the PTI and said that its lawmaker should have protested in the same manner during their federal government. “They should give suggestions in the house and rather taking off clothes,” he said.

In her speech, PPP’s Sharmila Farooqui lauded the provincial government for serving the people of the province. She suggested that a good housing scheme might be established for the slums in Karachi.

MQM-P’s Mangla Sharma and GDA’s Abdul Razzaque also spoke during the pre-budget debate.

PTI protests against news channel’s suspension

Meanwhile, PTI lawmakers also protested in the house against revocation of the licence of a private news channel by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

PTI’s parliamentary party leader Khurram Sher Zaman said that the government wanted to increase unemployment in the country by suppressing the voice of the media.

“The federal government wants to ban the media and PPP is also involved in this process,” he said.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla said that the voice of the press was suppressed during the PTI’s federal government.

“Take a look at your period too what had your government done with media. But we are with a private news channel whose license was revoked,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2023

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