Almost all countries across the world regularly partake in collecting a snapshot of their populations so that broad specificities on national demography in conjunction with its social, economic and housing characteristics can be gathered. For every modern country, a population census carries great importance because planning for development, allocation of resources and formulation of policies to cater for different needs of citizens hinge upon the data collected through this exercise. And, at a time when Pakistan is suffering from an unchecked population growth, it is of utmost importance that the country ascertains the rapid changes taking place in its working-age population.
Pakistan has been living with absurdity since the last census which was held in 1998. Without knowing the number, age, geographical distribution; ethnic, religious, and gender composition; educational level; income level, employment level and other key indicators of its population, successive governments of Pakistan have been planning and executing policies, ranging from economic, social, political, foreign, environmental, and defence, etc. The lack of accurate numbers turned Pakistan into a place where guesstimates take precedence over realities, where sentiments are superior to evidence; and where whimsical decision-making becomes the rule of the game. Resultantly, most of the times the plans did not match ground realities and could not achieve the desired outcome.
It is encouraging that after almost two decades, Pakistan finally kicked off its sixth national census with 200,000 army personnel and 91,000 civilian enumerators going door to door to collect data. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world. Holding census, though on Supreme Court’s orders, is a positive step by the government before the national election scheduled to be held next year, in 2018. Besides that the headcount will provide an updated political map of Pakistan and lead to accuracy in vote count in the upcoming elections, it carries a lot of other benefits as well. Here is a brief description of those:
Helps Formulate Pragmatic National Policies
Formulation of a pragmatic and systematic national policy depends on the accuracy and authenticity of the data collected during the population census. These data help in policymaking, planning, policy-analysis and provide ground for implementation of policies in sectors like education, health, employment level, poverty, inflation, etc.
Making sound decisions is a prerequisite to successful drawing up of prudent national policies. Census provides policymakers with data that help them make decisions regarding the division of resources keeping in view the requirements of specific geographical areas. For example, National Finance Commission (NFC) Award is distributed among the federating units of Pakistan and while determining the share of each unit, population is the principal criterion. Hence, census provides a rational pattern for the provision of resources.
Assists in Policy Evaluation
Census aids the process of policy evaluation which is essential for the assessment of the effectiveness of national policies chalked out by the government.
Impacts on Government
The sixth population census is being held after nearly 19 years. During this long period, a number of changes have taken place in Pakistan in socioeconomic, political and security spheres. So, this exercise is necessary to bring about socioeconomic changes in the country keeping in view the prevailing demographic realities.
The change in absolute population in different provinces will have political consequences, in terms of not just delimitation of constituencies but also in allocation of resources and the ensuing redistribution between and among provinces. The most important outcome of the census will be the absolute population of the provinces, as that will determine, to a large extent, the provinces’ share in the NFC Award.
Changes in Job Quotas
Population census would provide the accurate number of population which would effect an increase in job quota at federal and provincial levels. This is beneficial in the sense that it will help alleviate the grievances of smaller provinces.
Changes in Electoral Constituencies
Population census would provide an actual database and the constituencies will be re-demarcated. It could prove to be a milestone in the process of free and fair elections. On the database of population, Election Commission of Pakistan will have to carry out the delimitation process. With this, it is highly likely that strength of the National Assembly will also increase, thus providing people a better representation in the Parliament.
According to Asad Sayeed, Senior Researcher at the Collective for Social Science Research, “Currently, Punjab’s share of the population, as per the last census, is nearly 56 per cent. “If it goes down by 2 per cent, and Sindh and KP go up 1 percent each, commensurately, Punjab’s seats will reduce in proportion to Sindh and KP.”
Rights of Minorities
Census would be helpful for the government to protect the rights of minorities. According to Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, religious minorities make up approximately 5% of total population of Pakistan. Actual figure of minorities living in Pakistan would provide an opportunity to protect their basic rights.
Rights of the Transgender
Census would be equally significant to protect the rights of the transgender community. In the census form, a third category for transgender has been added. It would obligate the government to devise policies regarding transgender to uplift their socioeconomic standards.
The census will give a comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of the people. An accurate census is in everyone’s interest. It provides data that allow public resources to be equitably shared across the country, and to ensure that services at local level are relevant to all the people who live there. A reliable census is important for Pakistan to adequately plan growth, deliver services and solve the country’s problems.
Author: Public Administration Issues and Perspectives