Suo motu notice: Top judge seeks answers to census delays

Attorney general, statistics secretary summoned on July 15.

Hasnaat Malik July 05, 2016
Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali.

ISLAMABAD: The country’s top judge has taken suo motu notice of the inordinate delays in holding a census due since 2008. The case against the federal government’s inability to carry out the population count will be taken up on July 15.

Carrying out a census after every 10 years is a constitutional obligation of the federal government. Pakistan may be among one of a few developing countries which has not staged a census in the past 18 years. The last census was held in 1998.

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In 2010, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) during the PPP government had decided to hold a census in 2011, but only the house count could be carried out at that time.

On Monday, Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali took suo motu notice of the issue after the Supreme Court’s registrar office put up a note before him citing several news reports related to the delays in holding a census.

After going through the note, the top judge passed an order, directing the SC registrar to fix the matter for hearing in open court on July 15. Notices were issued to the Attorney General of Pakistan and the Statistics Division secretary to tell the court about the government’s reasons for putting the census off for so long.

Though the process to hold the sixth census, due since 2008, was scheduled to start from March 28 the government did not release the amount allocated for the purpose.

On February 6, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar had hinted at delaying the census because of the unavailability of military personnel due to their engagement in Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The minister did not speak about any possible dates or deadlines for the census. About 200,000 soldiers were to be deployed across the country for the security of the census staff owing to the security situation.

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Census holds extreme importance as seats for national and provincial assemblies are allocated on the basis of the population count. Without it, the election commission has already said new constituencies are not possible before the next general elections scheduled in 2018.

The funds between the federation and the provinces are also distributed on the basis of respective populations. The quota for the recruitment of federal posts is also worked out on the basis of population ratio.

Analysts believe policymakers and bureaucracy are deliberately delaying census, as it would create more constituencies and urban areas for which the government would have to provide civic facilities and basic infrastructure.

The government is bound to provide a population exceeding 3,000 households all basic and civic amenities as enshrined in the Constitution.

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The experts believe hundreds of new union councils would emerge after the census and the provincial governments would have to devolve more funds to the districts, ultimately halting megaprojects in large cities.

After partition, the first census in Pakistan was held in 1951. The second one was organised in 1961, third in 1972, fourth in 1981, and the fifth and last one was in 1998.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2016.


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