The Council of Common Interests (CCI) recently decided to put off national census for an indefinite period while decided to work out modalities and availability of servicemen for the nose count. It is important to note here that census is a periodic activity and it must be conducted regularly, and should never be missed out on. Conducted at regular intervals, a census allows governments, businesses, and others to take stock of the socioeconomic health of the nation. While conducting a population census in Pakistan after every 10 years is a constitutional obligation, the last census took place in 1998.
A national census is the sum of the country’s economy and indicates not only the current trends and figures of population but also projects trends for the future which could help rulers plan national activity accordingly. In the US and the UK, it is a five-yearly activity while in Australia it is annual. Unfortunately, there has been no census in Pakistan since 1998.
The practice of census started in the Subcontinent in 1881 and was held every 10 years. India continued with the practice which stood them in good stead.
After independence, the first census in Pakistan was conducted in 1951, the second in 1961 while the third census was held in 1972 instead of 1971 due to political environment in the country and a war with India. The fourth census was held in March 1981 and fifth one which was due in 1991 could not be held in time for a number of political reasons and was finally held in March 1998. Pakistan’s next national census was scheduled to take place in 2008 and later in 2010 but the plan did not materialize. House listing operation was completed in April 2011 for the sixth population census, but due to political problems, the countrywide population census could not be held.
Since the seats in the National Assembly are allocated to each Province/FATA and Federal Territory on the basis of the population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published. But then, the officially published figure of the last head count held in 1998 was little over 132 million while the latest guess estimate in 2016 is nearly 200 million. So, in all the subsequent elections since 1998, that is the 2002, 2008 and 213 polls, it is on the basis of the 1998 head count that the number of NA and PA seats were allocated whereas each constituency, both national and provincial has expanded exponentially meanwhile putting enormous burden on the elected representative on the one hand and on the other rendering all socioeconomic planning and budgetary allocations out dated.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is responsible to carry out the delimitation of national and provincial assemblies constituencies under the constitution. In view of increase of population since 1998 and creation of new districts, tehsils/talukas and other administrative boundaries in all the provinces, fresh delimitation of constituencies must be carried out throughout the country so as to increase the number of seats in the NA and PAs, if required, and to provide the exact share of representation in the legislature on the basis of population as contained in Section 8 of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974 and according to the principles of delimitation laid down under Section 9 of the Act.
The roll authority i.e. the ECP in its summary, dispatched earlier to the Prime Minister, had stated that under the provisions of Article 51(3) and (5) of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, and the provisions of Section 7 of the Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, the delimitation of constituencies can only be undertaken after a fresh census. Since, after the election of 2002, no fresh census was conducted, therefore, on the eve of general elections 2008 and 2013, the ECP only re-described the constituencies where new districts, tehsils/taulkas or administrative units were created by the provincial governments.
Further, distribution of funds between the Federation and the Provinces is made through National Finance Commission (NFC) which uses census figures for the purpose.
The 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award was announced well in time to be incorporated in the 2010-11 budgets. Though it was claimed later that the new allocation formula was evolved keeping in mind the anticipated increase in the financial needs of the provinces after the expected passage of the 18th Amendment, the mismatch between the increase in the needs of the provinces following the passage of the 18th Amendment in June 2011 and the budgetary allocations received by the provinces under the 7th NFC Award remained irreconcilable throughout the five-year tenure of the Award. This happened notwithstanding the fact that the federation failed to jettison a number of provincial responsibilities merely because the federal bureaucracy was not prepared to let go what it considered to be its fiefdom, thereby, causing the federation to shoulder burdens that were to be passed on to the provinces.
The quota for recruitment to Federal posts is also worked out on the basis of population ratios as given by the census.
The demographic conditions in so many localities have changed over these years and the 1998 figures just do not hold good right now. How could the rulers be enabled to make accurate assessments in their plans for the future when the figures they’re working on have gone redundant?
National census is a due diligence activity that needs to be undertaken swiftly and with sufficient planning. It is not only in national interest but also a citizen’s right to be informed that the public treasury is being utilised efficiently and conscientiously. The government must prioritise the matter; the fact that a new date will be announced after ‘discussion with most stakeholders’ is akin to pending the matter until there is a more amenable time for the government.