By Yasir Habib Khan –
Population census, a constitutional requirement, has been held in ‘undeclared’ abeyance for years but no political party is bothered
Political interest outmaneuvers national interest as despite ingrained differences with one another, parliamentary parties are jointly active in putting Census, Pakistan desperately needs since 17 years, on the shelf.
Almost all statistics and data compiled in the last population census in 1988 have gone irrelevant. Polices and planning are being made in dark. As a result, crises are rife in all sectors. However, political leadership has been shying away with Census for sake of their ulterior designs.
Except Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) PML-N, PPP, ANP, MQM, JI, JUP-F spell the doom for holding fresh Census. PTI champion the holding of Census as new changes in demography and delimitation sphere will gift it numerous political leverages. Other parties dislike the process fearing that new statistics will upset their favorable political old settings that are always advantageous to them especially during elections.
Even the ruling party PML-N who preferred putting off census during their two terms in 90s stands divided on the issuing of conducting census. Embroiled with multiple crises back to back, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is learnt to avert census to ward off political brawl while Finance Minister Ishaq Dar hankers for Census to carve out realistic policies on economic, political and social fronts.
Provinces are also hesitant to hold the sixth census, feeling afraid of giving up their big share in financial resources and civil service quotas to be affected by new demographic changes that may have occurred since 1998. Delay in census has also stalled the process of local bodies’ elections even in cantonment areas. The government with the consent of parliamentary parties intrigued amendments to the Cantonment Act 1924 to hold elections in 53 cantonment boards across the country.
PML-Q senator Kamil Ali Agha said that PML-N and PPP were only two parties who had conspired against the census. They felt threatened if census was conducted, he stated, their political advantages in old electoral constituencies and numerical gains in parliamentary seats would be disturbed. He said that PML-Q demanded census at earliest.
PTI Punjab President Ijaz Ch said that instead political ploy, delay in census lied in the multiple issues. “In Balochistan and some part of KPK, unrest is the reason. Political and linguistic issues are stumbling block in Sindh. Political interests become the enemy of census in some parts of Punjab,” he added.
Ijaz Ch, however, termed PML-N as supporter of status quo which never wanted census as the process would bring massive changes on the basis of new political arrangements, populations growth and social setting. He suggested that army may be engaged to hold census if security was the issue.
Every country needs Census to have basic information on its residents to formulate realistic planning so that state could ensure quality of life to the people. Sound planning is always based on up to mark, authentic and elaborated information on the state of the society in the country. Around the world census is an important and multi-ranged activity, which occurs once a decade in the entire country.
Political scientists believe that Census’ leading purpose is to get information to know full and reliable picture of the population, living conditions, demographic volatility, economic trends and social characteristics.
As per constitution of Pakistan, the conduct of a census is the ninth item in the Federal Legislative List and under Article 51(5), the government is bound to do the census exercise for allocation of seats for national and provincial assemblies.
In 2013, PML-N and PPP were on same page on holding census. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thumped up a summary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in this regard. Summary said that as per requirement of the Constitution, every government was liable to conduct a census after every 10 years. It states that in the absence of a census, doubts on transparency of general elections always stemmed up. The ECP urged that a census be held so as to help determine the actual count of the population and the formation of electoral constituencies.
Later, Council of Common Interest (CCI) took stock of the situation regarding Census in 2014. However, Prime Minister did not show activism in this regard. Political leadership warned Nawaz Sharif that census would be only beneficial for PTI so better to side with status quo. Some party leaders also cautioned that census would open a new pandora box. “It costs too much and if mishandled will cause severe blow for government,” PPP Punjab leader said seeking anonymity.
However, PML-N stalwart and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has favored holding population census. During recent meeting of Governing Council of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), he observed that fresh census data was a demand of time. The Governing Council has okayed combining three agriculture censuses, Agriculture Census, Agriculture Machinery Census and Livestock Census into one.
Finance Department senior leader revealed that Ishaq Dar had suggested Nawaz Sharif to hold census next year. However final decision would be taken in next Common Council of Interest (CCI), he said and added that projected cost would be Rs. 15 billion. “There is also a suggestion to engage Army in this process while an independent Census authority might be brought into practice,” he claimed.
PML-N senior Iqbal Zafar Jhagra said that on the issue of census, all political parties were on same page. However if anyone complained, grievances would be addressed, he claimed. “We are doing extensive exercise so that not a single lacuna be left to throw a spanner in the work of census. Confirmed date cannot be given but we assure that PML-N would definitely hold belated census,” he vowed.
PPP central leader Naveed Ch ruling out strong perception asserted that political parties’ interests had not impeded the process of census. All political forces want census but with transparency. If statistical calculations are carried on the bases of honesty and impartiality, no one could object, he expressed. He suggested connecting to NADRA’s data in the conduct of census to ensure efficacy. He also pointed out prevailing spate of insecurity a hurdle on the way of census.
Pakistan held first census in 1951 which was quite in time. Second census held in 1961 saw controversy due to tug of war between East and West Pakistan. Third census took place in 1971 in the shadow of Dhaka Fall. Government did 1981 census quite satisfactorily. Next census was due in 1991 but it had to be held in 1988 on various political grounds. And now fresh census is hanging in balance again on political reasons.