Census issues

Published March 15, 2023

AS the seventh population census continues, several issues have cropped up hindering the head count. Foremost seems to be security for police officers deployed to guard the enumerators. Two policemen assigned census duties were martyred in separate attacks in KP on Monday. One incident occurred in the Tank area, while the other in Lakki Marwat; both areas have witnessed TTP activity in the past, and the attacks are reminiscent of deadly terrorist ambushes targeting polio teams. Apart from security concerns, there are trust issues, particularly in urban areas, as reports have emerged of people refusing to cooperate with census teams. Moreover, enumerators in several areas, particularly in Sindh, have complained of not receiving funds for fuel and daily allowances. The Sindh chief minister has also said his administration may boycott the head count if their myriad concerns are not addressed. The count in several parts of Balochistan has also not started due to ‘technical issues’.

All of these concerns need to be addressed urgently by the federal government, or else controversy will mar this census too. It should be recalled that billions of rupees have been set aside for the census in times of great financial strain, while tens of thousands of enumerators and security personnel have fanned out across the country to complete this critical exercise. These funds and man hours should not be wasted due to glitches and faulty management. The top priority of the state should be to provide a safe environment both to the enumerators and security personnel to allow them to carry out their tasks successfully. Special emphasis must be placed on areas known to be affected by militant activity, and extra layers of security, as well as intelligence-based operations, are required to clear these spots for the teams. Secondly, the state should lead public awareness drives through the media to urge people to work with the teams. There exists a considerable trust deficit between the state and the people, and it is the government’s job to convince citizens that their data will be kept safe, and be used for the benefit of the country. Moreover, glitches with equipment and software, as well as bottlenecks related to the release of funds to teams, need to be looked into, while the PML-N should address the concerns of its PPP coalition partner in Sindh over census transparency.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2023

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