What is taking Pakistan so long to conduct the national census? Certainly, the massive task of tallying people is a difficult one but an essential requirement of a country. Without a census, planning on the government’s part is no more than guesswork. However, a delay in conducting census on part of the Pakistan government provoked the Supreme Court to take the matter under its suo moto jurisdiction, declaring the significance and urgency attached to the matter. As the head of the family requires information about their family, likewise, the government should be aware of its citizens. The national census is a programme of absolute importance and should be carried out with an interval of ten years as one of the most essential and important planning tools of a country. The census organisation established in 1950 in Pakistan, has conducted four national censuses so far, with delays. The last one was carried out in 1998 after a delay of seven years. A census is due in Pakistan since 2008.

A government uses the data of census in planning growth and delivering services. For instance, a national government distributing economic support to local governments can use census data to direct aid to parts of the country with the highest poverty rates. While looking at the importance of conducting the census, avoiding this exercise on part of Pakistan is now creating resentment and suspicion amongst the various institutions of the government. The recent suo moto by the Supreme Court of Pakistan about governmental delay in conducting the census has stirred debate on the importance of the task.

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) in 2014 decided that the census shall be carried out by March 2016, which definitely was not seen on the agenda of the government this year. It was further decided that the government will receive an estimated Rs14.5 billion, which have been requested to hold the census. Clearly, the CCI has failed in its agenda and plan. Another perspective given by intellectuals is to rely on data recorded by NADRA. Relying on NADRA, as per various advisers, demonstrates the ignorance of people; how would you record people who see no necessity of ID cards? NADRA only holds the data of people who require identity cards, passports or other of identity documents.

This flexible attitude of government towards one of the most important issues clearly shows that government treats census as a short-term political need. Furthermore, the accuracy of other surveys also cannot be taken as a substitute of the national census. It is the chief responsibility of the government to report on the state of the nation. Without census data, the government cannot advise the citizens on the state of the economy and society. Having obsolete data from the 1998 census, the Pakistani government cannot plan about the delimitation of electoral constituencies, seat shares in parliament, targeted subsidies, local bodies polls, and all other policy matters that rest on population data. The government has to consult CCI for the census in March 2017, which again seems a dream. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has directed PBC to come with an unambiguous date to conduct the census. Most likely the census would be done in phases, considering the manpower and resources available. The government has to work on reliable methodology for conducting these surveys. The question that how many times other institutions of the state will have to jump in to manage the mismanagement/bad governance on part of the government often arises. Failure to conduct a census for the past 18 years is another saga of bad governance on part of the democratically chosen governments.

While looking at the importance of conducting the census, avoiding this exercise on part of Pakistan is now creating resentment and suspicion amongst the various institutions of the government.