The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has deferred indefinitely the sixth national population census which was to be held in March this year. The CCI took this decision in its 28th meeting held at the Prime Minister House on Monday.
The CCI — a constitutional body that resolves power-sharing disputes between the federation and the provinces — was convened after a gap of almost a year, though it is required to meet once in every three months.
The prime minister presided over Monday’s meeting which was attended by the provincial chief ministers and others concerned.
The CCI rescheduled the census by consensus due to commitments of the security forces and Operation Zarb-e-Azb, says a handout issued after the meeting. “The CCI tasked the concerned to consult the armed forces of Pakistan for availability of the required human resource and propose a new date for the census.”
However sources told The Express Tribune that apart from unavailability of troops, merits and demerits of the census, its political implications and fear of possible ensuing unrest forced all political parties to defer the exercise.
Prior to the CCI meeting, the prime minister spoke to all the chief ministers about the plans to put off the census, sources said. He told them that it wasn’t possible to conduct the census for at least six to eight months, as the military was already stretched thin in fighting terrorists.
The premier also said that a meeting of all political parties and the military would be convened to discuss this delicate issue before setting a new date for the census.
According to the handout, Statistics Division Secretary Shahid Hussain Asad briefed the meeting about preparations made for conducting the census. The country has been divided into 166,819 blocks for which staff of 210,239 heads is required, he said.
The meeting was told that since the armed forces were engaged in Operation Zerb-e-Azb, deployment of required number of army troops in March/April for the census throughout the country on the same day was not possible.
Although participants agreed that the CCI would meet again on March 25, the handout stated that the meeting would have one-point agenda: National Flood Protection Plan. A committee comprising the water and power minister, the climate change minister and the provincial chief ministers will present a comprehensive plan in that meeting.
Interestingly, the CCI in its 27th meeting held in March 2015 had decided that the census would be conducted in March 2016 with the support of the armed forces as was done in 1998, the last time the country had seen the headcount exercise.
National census is necessary for distribution of resources under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award and an allocation of seats in the federal and provincial legislatures. The Election Commission of Pakistan also wants to delimit constituencies for federal and provincial assemblies before the 2018 general elections.
Kachi Canal inquiry
The CCI also approved formation of an inquiry commission to fix responsibility for alleged illegalities in the Kachi canal project. The meeting observed that massive illegalities were involved in the conception, execution and completion of the project.
“It was informed that initially the project was approved by the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) at a cost of Rs27.5 billion in 2003, but later the PC-I was revised with an escalating cost of Rs57.7billion. It was observed that the project was started prior to the approval of a feasibility study and PC-I.
The prime minister said all those who initiated the project and released funds in violation of rules and procedures must be identified and penalised according to the law. “The country cannot face such misadventures at the cost of public money. Whether departments or individuals, but those responsible must be made answerable to the people of Pakistan for such faulty projects,” he added.
A retired Supreme Court or high court judge will head the inquiry commission which will comprise the secretaries of the ministries of water and power, planning and reforms and finance as its members. Underlining the significance of the project, the prime minister said that a fresh feasibility study along with an implementation plan should be prepared on an immediate basis.
The meeting discussed the agenda item of Pakistan Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation Bill 2014. The CCI was informed that the bill has been passed by parliament and a decision, in this regard, stood implemented. The meeting was informed that the agenda item of Public Debt Management and Supervision Policy also stood implemented.
The meeting also approved the draft of Security and Exchange Commission Bill.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2016.