For one of the most populous countries in the world, it is a shame that Pakistan did not conduct a census in the past 19 years. The last headcount took place in 1998 and while the next census was scheduled for 2008, it was delayed due to prevailing law and order situation. Lack of political will and ulterior motives, it seems, continued to delay the vital exercise for all these years until the Supreme Court took a suo motu notice and ordered the government to conduct the headcount. It goes without saying that census is a necessary exercise as it allows governments as well as other stakeholders such as businesses and non-governmental organisations to take steps according to socio-economic factors of the country. Census tells how many people live in each province, what kind of disability they have (if any) and how many of them are jobless. No other data, either from NADRA or any other survey, can compensate for the information collected through census which by nature is expansive and more accurate than the other options. But alas, Pakistan had ignored this vital exercise for almost two decades and has been running its affairs on guesstimates. This latest exercise is also not done out of sheer sense of responsibility but in response to the Supreme Court order. In any case, this is a move in the right direction and the first step in getting the house in order.
The exercise, due to begin on March 15 and go on till May 25, will be a massive endeavour: nearly 120,000 government employees and 200,000 soldiers will carry out the task and it will cost Rs18.5 billion. The government has stressed that the exercise will be conducted with utmost transparency and strict laws have been drawn to ensure fairness and accuracy — anyone found guilty of falsifying data will be subjected to six month jail term and a fine of Rs50,000. If everything goes well, this census will be the dawn of a new era where politicians and social scientists are no longer doing guesswork on issues of great importance.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2017.