Census on track
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.