Census on track

Enterprise - - Letters - Syeda Bushra Saeed, Is­lam­abad.

Our govern­ment does its best to mud­dle its pri­or­i­ties. Re­ports in the later months of 2015 said that the pro­posal to hold the much-de­layed pop­u­la­tion census in March 2016 was ef­fec­tively dead. The top brass of the Pak­istan Bureau of Sta­tis­tics (PBS) com­plained that they were not be­ing re­leased the needed funds as the govern­ment in­di­cated that it would con­tinue to use other types of data sources to plan for the fu­ture. With the last census held in 1998, it is clear that the data be­ing used by the govern­ment is se­verely in­ad­e­quate. In what is good news, the govern­ment wisely de­cided to go ahead with its orig­i­nal plan of hold­ing the census in March this year; ap­par­ently the govern­ment has also re­jected a pro­posal to hold a phased census. The PBS gov­ern­ing coun­cil has pro­posed a re­vised time­line. How­ever, the in­or­di­nate de­lay in de­cid­ing whether we are to hold a census or not sug­gests that March might be too early a date to con­duct a non-con­tro­ver­sial census. Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults are be­ing promised by June while district-wise data will be com­pleted by De­cem­ber 2017. The govern­ment has asked the PBS to de­liver the com­pleted data in half the time re­quired for the census to be com­pleted be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tions in 2018.

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, there is cer­tainly hope that speed­ing up the process will help with the plan­ning for the next elec­tions, in­clud­ing the de­lim­i­ta­tion of con­stituen­cies. For now, though, the time­lines should be viewed with cau­tion. There is much lo­gis­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal work to be done. Lead­ing statis­ti­cians in the coun­try have not yet been con­tacted nor has the mil­i­tary which will pro­vide lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port and se­cu­rity for teams con­duct­ing the census. The im­por­tance of a na­tion-wide census can­not be un­der­scored. A num­ber of bills in the Na­tional As­sem­bly have been held back, in­clud­ing those seek­ing an in­crease in seats for mi­nori­ties’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion and that of provinces un­til the census re­sults are shared. The census will yield im­por­tant data on mi­gra­tion, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try. A census re­mains the most com­pre­hen­sive method for es­ti­mat­ing how those who are cur­rently re­sid­ing in a coun­try are far­ing. With up­dated data in place, the po­ten­tial for mean­ing­ful plan­ning in­creases sig­nif­i­cantly. The fairly ex­pen­sive ex­er­cise of con­duct­ing a census, set to cost Rs14.5 bil­lion, is off­set by the po­ten­tial ben­e­fit of spend­ing funds in the right ar­eas. The govern­ment may have set an op­ti­mistic dead­line for the census but its pri­or­i­ties are fi­nally on track.

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