Surpassing the controversy that surrounded the 2017 census, the Council of Common Interests has cleared a path for the authorities to carry out a new national population and housing census by the end of 2021 by securing a majority vote. Given the animosity that dominated previously, especially since concerns expressed by the Sindh government were disregarded entirely, a fresh start was the only logical step that could be taken by the federal authorities.
Initiatives for a national census have been scarce, to say the least, over the course of years. Governments in Pakistan had never adhered to the traditional practice of carrying out a census every ten years—a problem that needed to be fixed immediately. However, the solution is not to have multiple surveys within the span of 5 years—it is a humongous, expensive and tedious task that requires immense effort that cannot be deployed so often.
In light of this, the time is ripe for the government to direct all measures towards ensuring that this census is carried out to completion and in accordance to the interests of all provinces. Considering that the entire process will cost Rs23 billion, carrying out more than one every decade is not feasible and thus, we must learn from mistakes made in the past and start anew.
Special consideration should also be given to previously neglected demands like the provision of photocopies of the data form to each individual during house enumeration. The failure of previous governments to accept this request is what led to Sindh rejecting the census and believing that the province was being conspired against. Removing all apprehensions now, before the process actually begins, is vital so that come 2023, the national census is accurate and truly reflective of mutual cooperation between all of Pakistan’s provinces.
Redoing the census means that it will be free from the errors of the past in theory. It is hoped that the government on this occasion can also extricate this national exercise from party politics and the resultant controversy.