KARACHI: Rejecting the 2023 census results, urban planners and researchers on Saturday pointed out various gaps in the enumeration process saying that due to anomalies in the exercise a large amount of valuable data could not be collected. They also stressed that census should not be seen only as a political issue, but rather as a social issue as well and should be given more importance for better urban planning and improving people’s standard of living.
Speaking at a seminar on the topic of census at the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences, social researcher Dr Syed Jaffer Ahmed said that census was a major social issue.
“To provide all kind of facilities in a state — water, food, education, roads, hospitals, etc, — knowing the exact population is necessary, and unless it is done fairly, the country would remain in an abnormal state, which it currently is for the past many years,” he added.
He said social aspects were needed to be given more importance in census exercise rather than just political considerations.
Opportunity lost as political considerations supersede key social aspects during census, seminar told
Rejecting Karachi’s census results, urban planner Muhammad Toheed said that the continuous increase of Karachi population showed that the census numbers were not reliable.
He said that due to political considerations, Karachi population was shown at 16 million in the 2017 census.
“Therefore, if the increase in population is counted from real number, the count would reach much more than what has been announced.”
He claimed that on these bases and many other factors, the population of Karachi was not less than 25 million.
Mr Toheed said there were four main purposes of carrying out a census: To know people’s living standard, distribution of resources, electoral representation and allocation of seats. The latter two are always focused in this exercise, he added.
However, it is people’s living standard and resource distribution which are more important and should be our focus. But unfortunately, these crucial factors are always given less importance, he said.
A lot of valuable data could not be collected due to the poorly crafted questionnaire which would create serious problems in future during urban planning, he claimed.
He asked whether the people who designed the questionnaire and who carried out this large-scale exercise were even aware of how people, particularly in Karachi, lived.
He said it was not focused in the exercise how people lived, how many of them had the facility of electricity, and availability of water, etc.
He said during the enumeration process in Karachi, people were only asked what their source of water was. However, there should have been a distinction between drinking water and tap water used for other purposes because, unlike many areas of the country where tap water is also used for drinking, it is not used in Karachi.
Thus there was no data and it would create problems in solving water crisis of the city by proper planning, he added.
The question about the source of electricity was also lacking clarity as it failed to give people proper options about their source of supply, like solar energy, etc. Complete information could have contributed in addressing city power supply problem, he added.
The questions concerning the roofs of people’s houses were also not clear, he said. With each type of roof — tiles and metal bars, metal sheets, reinforced concrete roof, etc — people had different thermal experiences. If its data had been available, it would be helpful in the city’s planning and addressing the issues like heatwave, etc, he said.
Criticising the ‘de jure method’ as unsuitable for the country, Mr Toheed said that due to this method a large number of people from other provinces living in Karachi were not counted.
But, he said, it was not even de jure method that was properly followed in this census as, according to the UN guidelines, in this method a person was counted as a resident of an area where he spent most of his time, and in Karachi, millions of people from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and other provinces were living for years but they were not counted in its population.
Apart from that, he said, those who carried out the census had no method of finding out for how long a person was living in an area. Due to this, distribution of resources, like water for example, for all those living in Karachi for years is allocated to provinces according to permanent addresses written in their CNICs. Thus this method was also one of the main reasons behind the undercount, particularly in Sindh, he concluded.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2023