ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s largest-ever population census will kick off on Wednesday (today) in 63 districts of the country after a delay of 19 years.
“All arrangements have been put in place for the first phase of the census. The field staff has received the required material,” Chief Statistician Asif Bajwa told Dawn.
He said as many as 118,000 enumerators from different departments, including the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), had been provided training. Moreover, 175,000 army personnel have also been deployed in the districts.
The army personnel, he said, would be involved in enumeration as well as providing security to the surveyors.
The first phase of the exercise will end on April 15. The second phase will commence on April 25 and end on May 25. In the second phase, 87 districts will be covered. Census reports will be completed in two months.
The chief statistician said no change had been made in the original plan.
Asked about reservations expressed by some political parties over the conduct of the census, the chief statistician said he couldn’t stop anyone from issuing statements. “We will follow the agreed scheme,” he said.
The major concern raised over the conduct of the census is from three provinces — Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — and related to internal migration. A similar concern has been voiced by temporarily displaced tribal people. It is not clear whether the internally displaced persons will be counted in their native areas or where they are living at present.
The Balochistan National Party-Mengal and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan have filed petitions in the superior courts regarding their concerns on the census.
The National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) has blocked 350,000 computerised national identity cards (CNICs) ahead of the first phase of the census.
Mr Bajwa claimed that most of the blocked CNICs belonged to Afghan nationals. However, he added, the census would cover all people living in the country irrespective of their ethnicity or nationality. Foreign nationals would also be registered.
However, in the census reports only those Afghans will be counted who have valid Pakistani CNICs and the rest will be left out. The PBS will use Nadra database to check fake CNICs.
On internal migration, he said people who had migrated from one province to another and stayed there for more than six months would be counted as part of the population of the host province.
Meanwhile in a response to a letter of Chief Minister Sindh Murad Ali Shah, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has sought to allay the concerns of the province.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Mr Dar said army personnel would work with civil enumerators to ensure a transparent and smooth census.
Coordination and vigilance committees had been set up at the census district level to monitor the process and ensure accuracy of data collection, he said, adding that a transparent census was a national effort which could only be successful with the cooperation and support of all concerned.
However, the minister said, public access to data at the census district level was not possible as the census data would not be processed at the district level. “Also the law prohibits sharing of data before it is anonymised.”
Referring to the chief minister’s proposal for the setting up of complaint redressal system, he said an elaborate complaint redressal system had been put in place. Control rooms have been established at federal, provincial, divisional, administration district and census district level to cater to the issues of non/over/under enumeration during the census operation.
On the proposal of doing away with the condition of CNIC for the census, Mr Dar clarified that CNIC was not mandatory. Only CNIC of the head of the family or any responsible person is required to ensure authenticity of data.
If a family member does not have a CNIC, they can provide other forms of identification to prove their identity. In the extreme case of no member of a family having a CNIC, the family would still be enumerated, he added.
To further strengthen the transparency of the process, Mr Dar proposed the setting up of a committee of technical experts, nominated by the provincial governments, to monitor the data processing at PBS headquarters and ensure that all parameters of the data processing were being uniformly applied across the country.
The first census in the country was conducted in 1951, the second in 1961, the third in 1972, instead of 1971 due to political turmoil, and the fourth in 1981. The fifth census, which was due in 1991, was conducted in March 1998 with the help of the army.
The census is considered to be one of the basic elements for judicious distribution of resources, calculating representation in parliament, electoral processes, tax collection, tackling civic issues, including growing urbanisation, and evaluation of resources for infrastructure development.
Under the constitution, the government is bound to conduct census every 10 years.