With general elections 2023 in sight, the government has decided to hold it on the basis of a new census. It is a welcome move, and augers well in order to put to rest reservations on the controversial 2017 census, which was criticised for discrepancies and an unrealistic headcount. It is an uphill task, though. At a time when the country is in the grip of a pandemic, the initiative of conducting a fair population count will be an enormous challenge. The roadmap is to consult all the stakeholders, and then the federal cabinet will direct the Council of Common Interests to complete the process countrywide within 18 months. This gigantic exercise would subsequently lead to new delimitations of constituencies before warming up for general elections. One hopes it doesn’t lead to opening up of a Pandora’s Box, as getting the nod from all stakeholders seems hard to come.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, in fact, took the political mosaic by surprise by announcing a fresh census. But it must have come as a relief for Sindh and Balochistan, and especially Karachi, which was a prime victim of the 2017 census. The population of Sindh was shown as 48 million in 2017, whereas it should be around 62 million as per the standards of international organisations. Likewise, the urban population was slashed by 25 per cent. This compelled a federal minister from the MQM to write a note of dissent, and the PM promised to hold a fresh headcount.
With the cat out of the bag, there isn’t any time to waste for the government. It is a must that all political forces should be on board, and the process should be transparently conducted on a war-footing basis. Counting door to door a nation of 210 million is no mean task. As pledged by the planning minister, the process needs to be smoothed with the help of digital technology and geo-tagging. Likewise, all national institutions in the realms of information technology and communications, especially NADRA, must have a proactive role. There is no need to show exigency, and let the process attain across the board acceptability.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 14th, 2021.
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