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Census and emerging challenges

Political parties and social groups are expressing reservations on the new census results, raising questions on the fairness of this count and the way it was conducted

Census and emerging challenges

As the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) gradually reveals the country’s sixth census results, political and social commentary is on the rise with some terming the count as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unfair’.

In its provisional results last week, the PBS claimed the country’s population has surged to 207.77 million. The new count shows 57 per cent increase in the country’s population since the last census conducted almost two decades ago. This means 2.4 per cent annual increase. The fifth official count in 1998 put the country’s population at 130 million.

According to the new count, Pakistan houses 106.45m males, 101.31m females and 10,418 transgenders. The province-wise break up is: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 30.5m, Fata 5m, Sindh 47.9m, Balochistan 12.3m, Islamabad 2m and Punjab 110 million. The count also observes an increase in the urban-rural ratio except in the capital city of Islamabad.

According to the provisional results of the census, the population of Karachi stands at 14.9m, which was 9.3m in 1998. Lahore, the second largest city of Pakistan, houses 11.1m which was 5.1m in 1998. Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Multan, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Quetta are also among the most populated cities and metropolitans, respectively.

The sixth census is likely to have important and major political, financial and social implications in terms of resource distribution, defining new delimitations of electoral constituencies and development.

Transgenders have been enumerated for the first time in the country. They are 10,418 — only 0.24 per cent of the total population. However, representatives of transgender community have straight away rejected this count, claiming that they are much more in number than counted.

Some political parties and social groups have started expressing reservations on the new count, claiming it as dubious, raising questions on the fairness of this count and the way it was conducted. The dissenting voices are likely to be heard more loudly in the near future.

The sixth census is likely to have important and major political, financial and social implications in terms of resource distribution, defining new delimitations of electoral constituencies and development. Analysts believe there will be more political implications than resource distribution because the latter will come after many months when the PBS would officially complete the data of all cities and towns. They think political impact of the census will be far-reaching and will become clear over the next year.

“Still, this is the initial break down and we will have to wait for complete results for a better analysis. However, technically, it has been observed that every census is better conducted than in the past in terms of organisation and processing, and has less errors. While, in term of credibility, there have been many efforts to make them acceptable to all,” says urban planner Reza Ali while talking to TNS, adding “however, we have to see whether all fundamentals have been taken care of or not”.

He says after 1981, the cities in our census procedure are defined by politicians. “And there, population is counted as per those defined limits which may be against the realities. Karachi is defined in a different way and that is why its population seems huge, while other cities are defined politically, drawing corporation boundaries — that is why it will be difficult to believe that population of these cities is so little,” says Reza Ali.

Another major issue, Ali feels, will be the increase in the population of central Punjab as compared to south Punjab. He also thinks that “the number of women is always under-reported and that is why they are always shown less than their actual number”. He says the census will have political impact and affect resource distribution as the full count is released in the coming months.

Umair Javed, doctoral researcher in sociology at the London School of Economics, says that “the census results reveal the failure of government’s population control policies. Growth rate per annum has only fallen by 0.29 per cent compared to the last intercensal period.

“At this rate of population growth, Pakistan will face many development-related issues in the future such as providing employment to a young and increasingly urban population.”

He says the gender gap in enumeration has decreased from 108:100 to 105:100, which is a marginal improvement, even though 5 million women are still ‘missing’ from the data. “The biggest reason for this is existing attitudes in localities like Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), KP, Balochistan where data on female members of household is not shared.”

“Another more sinister reason could be sex-selection where women are forced to abort pregnancies once the sex of the unborn child is known,” he says, adding that “female infanticide (killing of girl children) can also be a factor though one suspects that it may have declined in recent years. And also, in some places (like Islamabad or Karachi) economic migration takes place without families moving from places of origin. In those instances, only male respondents are present and are counted.”

Javed also thinks that the number of transgenders in the new count is too low to be believable “which indicates a failure to reach or convince them to be counted”.

“Political reactions to the census results will only get louder once more data is revealed,” he says. In particular, the news about Karachi’s population figure at only 17 million seems to be far away from the estimates that were thought of earlier. “Both the MQM and the PPP stand to gain and lose depending on how much population is shown in rural and urban Sindh respectively,” opines Javed.

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party in Sindh has officially rejected the provisional results, alleging the population of the province is understated. The party also plans to hold an All Parties Conference on the issue in near future. The Opposition Leader in National Assembly, Khurshid Ahmed Shah, who is from the PPP, has also demanded to compare the provisional results of census released by the PBS with the counter sheets filled by Pakistan Army men for clarity.

The two major factions of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have also rejected the provisional results, claiming Karachi’s population is much higher than the released official count. The groups have planned protests against the census result in near future. The MQM claims that Karachi’s population is not less than 30 million by any means.

The federal government, so far, has set aside the objections to the enumeration results, claiming the census was done in a fair and transparent manner and without any manipulation.

The sixth housing and population census of the country covered 151 districts of the four provinces, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA till last May. The government spent Rs18.5 billion on the census. The government had deployed nearly 118,000 staff protected by Pakistan Army troops to carry out the 70-day data-gathering drive from March to May. The census was carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Waqar Gillani

waqar gillani
The author is a staff reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

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