PLANNING for the country’s first-ever digital census due in August appears to be in full swing. The shift to modern methods, if the exercise goes as planned, will help reduce endemic gerrymandering, end boundary disputes in Karachi that are often responsible for ethnic tensions, clarify the landscape of resource distribution and to make financial needs and allocations more transparent. It will also provide insight into other demographic issues in the country. According to the census roadmap revealed by Planning Minister Asad Umar, this year’s count would be conducted on an “as is where is” basis. This means that the requirement to have a CNIC to be counted has been removed. People will be counted as residents of the city or town in which they have lived for the past six months. At least theoretically, this appears to be a convenient method of obtaining a more accurate estimate of the number of people residing in large cities who permanently receive migrants from smaller towns – although factors such as the constant movement of families traveling from urban centers to their villages of origin would have to be taken into account. The challenges of inter-provincial migration are most pronounced in Karachi, where politicians often accuse each other of rigging census results. Meanwhile, the number of languages used in census forms has increased from five to 10. Mr. Umar seems confident that the census data will be released by the end of the year, with enough time for the results guide the next electoral exercise. .
One aspect that remains unclear is the role of the National Database Registration Authority in the census. Nadra’s mention in news reports of consultations between various government departments is conspicuous by its absence. Even without CNIC’s requirement for this count, Nadra’s data can be used to verify or cross-check any potential irregularities in the upcoming count. Moreover, detailed census information can also be used at a later stage to eliminate discrepancies and irregularities in Nadra’s data and improve its record keeping.
Posted in Dawn, February 26, 2022