Federal govt, provinces agree, Sindh opposes
The Council of Common Interest approved on Monday the 2017 census and decided to complete the next population count of Pakistan before the 2023 elections.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar explained the decision: there was only one item on the CCI’s agenda and that was taking a final decision on the 2017 census.
After the census was held in November 2017, it was decided at a CCI meeting in the same month that an audit would be carried out on a sample of one per cent of the census result, the minister said. After a couple of weeks, it was decided that the sample size would be increased to 5%, he said, however, it never happened.
It is normal practice to conduct audits or checks after a census.
Umar said that just three days before the end of the previous government’s tenure, another CCI meeting was held. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics made a presentation on why the audit would be futile and would not reflect any ground reality. The CCI agreed but said that since the matter was referred by parliament it would be sent back to it.
The minister said it was a political decision taken by the CCI to not take a stand on this. “But at the same time, all the parties came together and passed a constitutional amendment which said that we will accept the census result as interim and the elections will be held on the basis of it,” he added.
Later deliberations took place and the provinces expressed reservations. A cabinet committee was formed to look into them and it presented its recommendations.
What would have happened had we not taken a decision on this today, what difference would it make to the lives of the people, Umar said.
Delimitation (or constituency boundary drawing) is carried out on the basis of the census (or population count), and based on that elections are held, he explained. A one-time exemption was given for the 2018 general elections through the constitutional amendment. By-elections can be held according to that. But for the local government elections, the courts have been asking when a final decision will be taken on the census result, so those elections are conducted on its basis, he said.
Umar said that if the government doesn’t approve this before the 2023 general elections then it would mean that we would be going back to the 1998 census and the elections would have to be held on its basis. “This would reduce the representation of the three smaller provinces in the assembly, while Punjab’s representation would increase.”
It would reduce the provinces’ share in resources as population is one of the basic measurements on how resources will be distributed.
“When it was presented before the CCI today, there were only two options. The PBS has already said back in 2018 that an audit cannot be done, so either you accept it or not.”
We cannot move ahead unless we do any of these, so the CCI approved it, said Umar. The CCI decided that there is no need to wait for 10 years to hold the next census and it will be conducted on an immediate basis.
A vote was taken. Seven members, including all federal members, and the chief ministers of Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa voted in favour of this approval. Sindh opposed it.
Explainer: Why Sindh should have another census by Mehtab Karim
A technical team was formed under the deputy director planning which included government officials, statisticians and experts on the census, he said.
“Within the next six to eight weeks, the framework for the next census will be ready,” the minister said. One of the best practices that will be adopted is the use of technology; what was previously done manually will be digitalized and UN principles [for census] will be adopted.
“After that, we will go to the CCI for the approval of the new framework, and four months after the approval, the work on the census can be started,” he said.
If you calculate all of this, the new survey will hopefully start by the end of September or start of October this year, the minister said.
“And this 18-month long process will then be completed in the first six months of 2023. I think elections are due in Oct/Nov 2023, so there will be time for delimitations on the basis of a new census,” Umar said.