Holding the census in March, after nearly two decades of delay is imperative, but that does not mean that it should be orchestrated in a half-baked and non-committal manner. After endless debate on the semantics of adequate security, methodology, and budgetary concerns (initially forecasted to cost Rs14.2 billion, the actual cost may go above Rs30 billion), March 15 has been highlighted as the date to begin the process.

But there are things that will be left out. Statistics on disability, fertility, migration and mortality patterns are not part of the exercise, which brings one to question the motivation of the government. Is this in fact, a genuine attempt to conduct the national population count, or is fulfilling the obligations of the constitution and doing the bare minimum to placate the Supreme Court (SC) the main objective?

There is no time to delay the census anymore, but carrying it heedlessly, without considering the demerits of leaving things out will have a lasting effect on any developmental policy-making, at least over the next ten years (provided the next one is held within the ten-year deadline).

The decision to leave out the section for disabilities for instance, is a grave injustice to the disadvantaged sector of the population – one cannot even estimate how large of an impact this is, considering the government is choosing to ignore tallying the numbers on this one. Not only is this detrimental to future developmental projects targeted at helping the disadvantaged, it is also against international commitments made by the country. In 1998, individuals with disabilities amounted to roughly 2 percent of the total population. Today, the picture might be entirely different, but we might have to wait for another ten years before knowing.

Chief Statistician Asif Bajwa has stated that 55 million forms have already been printed at the cost of Rs3 million, so there is no going back. But for a census that is costing the country much more than was expected, taking more time than is appropriate (a two-week process will take over two months) and leaves out important facets of population calculation, are the people really getting their money’s worth?

The short answer is no. For a process that is this important to policy formulation, socioeconomic development and political outlook (delimitation of constituencies can only take place after a headcount has been carried out), the government’s indifference to such important factors makes us fall far short of the range of things we should be calculating – especially at this exorbitant cost.