Nineteen years is not a long time in a nation’s history. But if you have been living with lots of false ‘facts’ for even half of that time you come to take them as permanent, or even sacred, ‘facts’ and order your life accordingly only to be jolted out of your fictional existence when confronted finally with the ground realities. Nations pay heavy socio-economic costs for living with such ‘facts’.
Pakistan has been paying this heavy cost since at least 2008, the year the periodic national census was due but did not take place. The cost has been all the more painful as we have been budgeting and making future socio-economic plans since without knowing approximately how many of us are there to feed, clothe and house; how many of us are living in rural Pakistan and how many in Urban regions; what is the male-female ratio in the population; how many of us are still illiterate; and which province has gained in population and which has lost.
These are only few of many more facts of life without whose approximate estimation we have been living a blind life – a life without knowing where we are going. And now that the new census is taking place many of us are going to be confronted with lots of disturbing facts – facts that don’t fit in our national fictional being.
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. Further, distribution of funds between the Federation and the provinces is made through National Finance Commission which also uses census figures. The quota for recruitment to Federal posts is also worked out on the basis of population ratios as given by the census.
The population census holds the key to explaining what has changed in the country since 1998 – when the census was held last – and how much has changed.
Experts believe complete census information is vital for addressing a variety of social challenges, such as Pakistan’s education emergency, increasing malnutrition and stunting, water shortages and lack of adequate health facilities. Census also provides a sampling frame for representative surveys.
The results of the sixth census are expected to show urbanisation trends, inter-provincial and intra-provincial migration, the gender configuration, the (un)employed population and educational attainment.
Suddenly anticipating that the results of the sixth national census would render the current false ‘facts’ into what they are actually, voices full of extreme concern and suspicion have begun to be raised from various quarters.
Sindh, which till very recently has been euphoric over the census, now fears that it may not be able to count all its citizens in time. The chief minister was recently informed that more than 30 per cent of the province’s population is without computerised national identity cards (CNICs).
In Balochistan, Mir Hasil Bizenjo, the chief of the National Party, has argued that the census should be put off in Balochistan and KP till “4 million Afghan refugees” return to Afghanistan and all the Baloch who have gone into exile return, else the Baloch population will be under-reported.
In Punjab, it is feared that its population share might well drop if the contested figures posted after the 2011 housing census are taken into account. Population has of course been Punjab’s claim to the lion’s share of power and resources in the country.
According to some social science experts, with the province witnessing enormous social and economic changes over the past 19 years, its population growth rate has consequently slowed down. In case that is what would emerge after the 2017 census Punjab’s seats in the National Assembly will come down significantly.
As reported in the 1981 census, Pakistan’s urban sprawl was 28.3 percent (total reported population 84.25 million) whereas in 1998, the figure rose to 32.5 percent (total reported population 132.35 million). This is expected to climb even further in 2017.
The census is expected to assume greater significance in KP because it would allow the government to take stock of the aftermath of the ongoing war on terror – how many people have lived, and how many have died and the extent of damage sustained by social and physical infrastructure of the province.
The Baloch concern is that the inclusion of over a million Afghan refugees, many of whom carry Pakistani CNICs, will further marginalize the native Baloch. In Sindh, the Urdu-speaking Mohajir population is expected to undergo a significant decline if the trends seen in the data of 1981 and 1998 persist. As per that data, the proportion of the Urdu-speaking population in Sindh declined from 24.1 percent to 21 percent. During the same period, the Sindhi-speaking population of Sindh rose from 55.7 percent to 59 percent.
The influx of Pakhtuns into Karachi is also expected to affect the demography of urban Sindh. In 1998, 48.52 percent of the entire population of Karachi Division mentioned Urdu as their mother tongue. Punjabi claimed 13.94 percent, Pashto speakers were 11.42 percent and Sindhi speakers were 7.62 percent. A huge influx of Seraiki-speaking people from southern Punjab in recent years has emerged as a new demographic dynamic in Karachi.
The Swat Operation, the floods of 2010, and the Operation Zarb-i-Azb further caused a kind of exodus towards urban Sindh. As a consequence, the results of the 2017 census, in all probability, according to social experts, will radically redefine the demographic composition of Karachi with far-reaching impact on the politics of Karachi and in turn of Sindh.
The 2017 census will, in all probability, also disturb the rural-urban equation in different spheres, including job quotas. In 1998, Sindh’s urban population totaled 30,439,893, which amounted to 48.8 percent of the total provincial population. Karachi’s total population (five districts) in 1998 was shown as 9,856,318 (32.4 percent of the provincial population).
Karachi’s alien population was said to be under-reported in the 1998 census. One rule of thumb estimate suggests that 75 percent of the 3.35 illegal immigrants (2.5 million) in Pakistan are located in Karachi. Those need to be accounted for in the ongoing census.
According to the same social science experts, the women factor in Pakistan will become substantial in all matters of society, politics and planning following the sixth census.
The first five censuses in Pakistan were undertaken with the legal cover of the Census Ordinance, 1959 amended from time to time. The 6th Population and Housing Census will be conducted under the legal cover of the General Statistics (Reorganization) Act, 2011.
However, unlike the 1998 census, this time enumerators would be conducting a nation-wide headcount without completing Form 2A. This means that significant data on disabilities, internal migration, mortality, fertility and other social indicators will be left out.
Usually, two weeks are allotted for conducting a nationwide census but in the current case, the census will end on May 31. A rapid census exercise is said to reduce the chances of error. Stretched over three months, the exercise could fail to capture accurate population data.
What is of equally serious concern is that there has been no effort to conduct pre-census preparatory operations which would have meant a thorough pilot census. The UNFPA had strongly recommended certain pre-and post-census mechanisms to ensure quality. They include a pre-enumeration pilot census to examine the mobilisation and preparation of field staff; the use of maps; the need for safe transportation of forms from field sites to Islamabad; and up-to-date software for technical data processing. There has been no pilot census. Clearly, a pilot would have ensured that the entire process would run smoothly from start to finish.
The UNFPA had also recommended a plan for a potential two-day extension in each enumeration area, and monitoring progress after seven days, if more time is required. Further, the UNFPA recommendations also referred to the need for a census master plan to dispel confusion over de jure (when persons are counted at their place of residence) versus de facto enumeration (when persons are counted on the day where they are found) and clarify exactly who is to be counted within the household.
And without state-of-the-art technology for tabulation and trained enumerators with expertise in interviewing, and with little attempt to bolster the capacity of PBS and its counterparts in the provinces to collect, archive, organise, analyse and disseminate census data, the exercise, according to census experts, would be futile and a waste of resources.
In 1998, Pakistanis studying or working abroad, away from their places of residence (in this case for over six months), were not counted as part of the legitimate population. This had sparked concerns of undercounting as government statistics show that 8 million Pakistanis live abroad. The other challenge is documenting Pakistanis without CNICs and non-Pakistanis. The census field operation plan booklet states that all aliens will be counted as non-Pakistanis. Afghan refugees in notified refugee camps will not be enumerated but those who live within residential areas with ordinary populations will be counted.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2017