Experts cast doubt on census after Karachi population increases with each extension

KARACHI: The very fact that with each extension in the census deadline Karachi’s population registered an increase shows that the process was faulty and that is because of the reality that the country is mired in ethnic and political conflicts, and a fair and transparent census is difficult to conduct until all stakeholders are willing to do so.

This was one of the key takeaways from a discussion — ‘Census results; a review’ — held among the experts at the Urban Resource Centre on Wednesday.

The participants highlighted the problems reported by the people during the census and gave their suggestions as to how to solve these problems in future.

The speakers included renowned architect and social researcher Arif Hasan, economist and demography expert Dr Asim Bashir and urban planner Mohammad Toheed.

Dr Bashir says every province wants its population to be counted more for increased share in resource distribution

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Hasan said there were ethnic and political conflicts in the country and in the present situation a fair and transparent census was difficult and would remain difficult to conduct in future. All stakeholders will have to agree to do it fairly, if they really want to be fair about census, he added.

Dr Asim said a trend of omission was there during the census which was done on purpose and was planned. He said that people already had negative views on 2017 census. Political parties exploited this and even before the census results were announced, they had rejected it and started calling it ‘fraud and unfair’. Political parties are important stakeholders and should not do such thing, he added.

He pointed out that increase in population count was important for provinces because resource distribution in Pakistan was based on population. “In Pakistan, resource distribution [in the National Finance Commission Award] on the basis of population is 82 per cent. This is why every province wants its population to be counted more and more,” he said.

Similar problem had existed in India due to the same formula of resource distribution on the basis of population, which had created a lot of disturbances there. To address the problem the share of each province was readjusted significantly and the problem was solved very much, he added.

Mr Toheed pointed out several gaps and issues in the questionnaire that was used during the census process. The biggest issue that he, along with other participants, raised was the definition of a household. “There is no fixed and clear definition of it. The people doing the census work also have no one definition of it. For some people one kitchen consists for one family/household even if they are two or three married couples living there. So if they are counted as one family/ household it would make a big impact on population count.”

Mr Hasan said census commission had been told about this issue that it was wrong and the definition of a family/household should be clarified but the commission did not give any response.

Time of enumeration

The time of enumeration process also came under criticism as Mr Toheed said that according to the United Nations guidelines when a census is conducted time is also very important factor.

And therefore, the month of Ramazan for this exercise was not a good choice. In response to various complaints, it was said by authorities that the workers involved in the census were exhausted due to Ramazan and so could not count every household.

Mr Toheed questioned what sort of faulty process was it that with each extension there was a significant increase in the city’s population. “So if it is given more extensions, it is very likely that the population count would reach what people are arguing it is, that is, let’s say 20 to 25 million or 30 to 35 million, according to some claims.”

Also, whatever data has been gathered, it is of not much use because it has many gaps and couldn’t help much in future planning of the city’s administration and environmental issues, he added.

Another important issue is of omissions on the basis of people’s identity cards.

Most of the people whose permanent address was not of Karachi or Sindh, they were not counted in the census. On this, Dr Asim said that the requirement of seeing people’s CNICs was not there in the 2017 census. But later, on the request of provinces, this was made a requirement.

Questions were also raised concerning unpredictable population growth in Balochistan.

When a question was asked from the audience as to why population count became much higher in places where people had been demanding for decades that they were being neglected in resources distribution especially areas like in Balochistan, Dr Asim replied that there certainly was ‘over-enumeration’ due to some political considerations, which was unfortunate and that there was no mechanism to find and catch how it happened.

Responding to questions about solutions to all these problems, the participants stressed the need for making the use of technology compulsory.

Dr Asim said that despite everything, the way this digital census had exposed the faults and gaps in the enumeration process, it had never been done before, and it was only due to technology.

While Mr Hasan said that beside this, more and more discussions regarding census were needed to spread awareness among people. Media and political parties also had an important role to play in this regard, he added.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2023