Political Interference in 7th Population and Housing Census 2023 Raises Concerns

In the ongoing 7th Population and Housing Census-2023 in Pakistan, concerns have emerged regarding political involvement and its potential impact on the accuracy and transparency of the data collection process. The census is a crucial national undertaking with far-reaching consequences, as it directly affects resource allocation and the delimitation process.

The recent debriefing to the Honourable Prime Minister on May 16, 2023, and the 14th meeting of the Census Monitoring Committee (CMC) on May 17, 2023, have prompted discussions on the need for diligent monitoring and rectification of any irregularities that may arise during the census enumeration process.

Given the advent of digital census technology, it is now possible to identify discrepancies in data collection, such as under-enumeration or over-enumeration resulting from biases or lax behavior. The accurate and transparent collection of data is of paramount importance to ensure its reliability for future planning and decision-making.

To address these concerns, it is crucial that all District Commissioners (DCs) and Assistant Commissioners (ACs) are directed to exert dedicated efforts and exercise vigilant monitoring throughout the census process in their respective areas. This approach aims to achieve comprehensive coverage and ensure that data is collected in a transparent and unbiased manner.

The 14th meeting of the Census Monitoring Committee on May 17, 2023, resulted in the approval of the continuation of census field operations in the previously specified districts until May 22, 2023 (excluding Balochistan). Additionally, the verification process will extend until May 31, 2023, to cover any remaining areas in all districts across Pakistan.

However, concerns about the census process have been raised by political figures, including Mustafa Kamal of the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) and members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh. These concerns primarily stem from fault lines existing in Sindh and Balochistan due to urban-rural divisions and the Baloch-Pakhtun divide, respectively.

The different segments within these provinces are motivated to demonstrate higher population figures to gain greater influence in matters such as employment, representation, and financial allocations. Consequently, holding an authentic census in these provinces has become a significant challenge.

Ahsan Iqbal, the Minister for Planning and Development and head of the monitoring committee on the census, has acknowledged the shortcomings of the current National Finance Commission (NFC) formula, which heavily favors population size.

He emphasized the need to separate population from resource distribution, stating that this issue impedes the authenticity of census data. Drawing a parallel with India, he highlighted that delinking population from resource distribution has facilitated progress in that country for the past two decades.

Minister Iqbal’s remarks came during a meeting discussing the recently concluded 7th population census, where Punjab requested an additional five days for completion, and Sindh proposed a grace period of three to four days for re-verification.

The higher population growth recorded in this census, estimated at around 2.7% compared to 2.4% in the sixth national census, has significant ramifications for Pakistan.

The Chief Census Commissioner noted that the higher population growth rate would lead to a decline in per capita income, a potential downgrade to lower middle-income status, adverse effects on foreign direct investment, and a worsening of social indicators.

Minister Ahsan Iqbal emphasized the government’s focus on investment in education, health, and population control to ensure equity among citizens. These efforts are part of the government’s 5Es-based public policy approach, with the five Es being export growth, e-Pakistan, environment, energy, and equity.

The ongoing 7th Population and Housing Census-2023 in Pakistan has faced challenges related to political involvement and concerns about the accuracy and transparency of the data collection process, particularly in Sindh.

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