Prime Minister Imran Khan and the former Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar addressed a seminar organised by the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan on “Alarming Population Growth: Call for Action” and highlighted the need for launching a campaign to control population growth rate. The economic compulsion of reducing the growth rate is compelling: high growth rate places an inordinate strain on limited natural resources, inclusive of availability of water, food supplies, employment levels and housing. That the situation is dire in developing countries as opposed to developed ones is attributed to the low level of education in the developing countries. Hence, the sine qua non of an effective population control strategy must have a component of raising education levels which, in turn, are not a priority of the poor in Pakistan as children are considered a source of income.
Prime Minister Khan, who seems committed to launching a population control programme, noted the link between population growth and environment degradation, and acknowledged the need to make population planning part of the school/seminary curricula as well as using the mosques to spread awareness. The Chief Justice stated that the judiciary collectively fully supports the campaign to control population because that would guarantee Pakistan’s survival; and added that “we need to create awareness through media and the masses otherwise after 30 years, population of Pakistan will be 452 million and the country’s agriculture produce will not be adequate to ensure food security.”
However, perhaps the most succinct recommendations came from Babar Ali, a founding member of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, who pointed out that several Muslim countries, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and Iran had successfully curtailed their population growth rates through a well-developed system of reward and punishment; and suggested that the government link the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) with the population control programme and reduce the monthly handouts to those beneficiary families with more than two children.
Experts have been urging the Khan-led government to utilise the BISP to launch its social sector programmes – education, health and housing – as BISP has successfully identified the eligible beneficiaries through employing a methodology approved by multilaterals/bilaterals. BISP programme is funded by DFID and the World Bank besides annual allocations in the budget. To-date, while the government has appointed Dr Sania Nishtar as chairperson of BISP, which is fully supported, yet the Prime Minister continues to use other avenues to launch his social sector programme, including the construction of 5 million housing units.
Another aspect that merits consideration is the National Finance Commission formula for distribution of resources amongst the provinces. This formula is overwhelmingly skewed in favour of population of each province. In other words, the populous the province, the higher the share of the province from the federal divisible pool of taxes. The provincial share in federal jobs is also in direct proportion of the population ratios. There is, therefore, a need to stop rewarding population growth to stem its escalation.
To conclude, it is essential for the government to fulfil its pre-election commitment to focus on education, and at the same time, there is a need to amalgamate social-sector-targeted programmes into BISP as that has the capacity to identify the vulnerable and has a well-developed mechanism of making payments.