ISLAMABAD -  Opposition senators from Balochistan and Fata expressed their serious reservations over the upcoming national census starting from March 15.

They said the exercise would be influenced by the presence of numerous foreigners in Balochistan while a large number of internally displaced persons in Fata had yet to return to their homes.

The opposition senators expressed their reservations at a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Saleem Mandviwalla. The committee directed the government to ensure transparency in carrying out the exercise.

Senator Mir Kabir Ahmad Shahi from Balochistan said the government should address their concerns before starting the census. He said around 0.9 million people of Balochistan had migrated to Karachi during last many years due to the precarious law and order situation in the province.

He also said over 4 million foreigners were currently living in Balochistan. “The census cannot be held transparently in the presence of such a large number of foreigners in the province,” he said.

Fata Senator Saleh Shah said the military operation was ongoing in several parts of the tribal belt and thousands of people had moved to different parts of the country. “The government should not neglect the people of Fata while carrying out the exercise,” he asserted.

Senator Sardar Muhammad Azam Khan Musakhail said the government should not include foreigners in the exercise. Senator Kamil Ali Agha opined the government should take a decision on the blocked national identity cards as to whether or not they would be considered valid during the exercise.

Prof Mehtab S Kareem who had especially been invited to the committee meeting for a briefing on the importance of the census said Pakistan was one of the four countries that had failed to carry out the exercise in last 20 years. The other three countries are Afghanistan, Somalia and Lebanon. He said Pakistan carried out the exercise five times since the independence while the population was rapidly rising in the country, especially in Sindh.

Pakistan Bureau of Statistics Chief Statistician Asif Bajwa told the committee that a six-month jail and a plenty of Rs 50,000 had been set for giving wrong information about households during the census. He said the exercise was crucial for distribution of resources among the federating units under National Finance Commission Award and allocation of seats in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies. He said training of 80 percent master trainers had been completed.

The PBS chief statistician gave the minister an update on the state of preparedness, saying field work was being undertaken at a fast pace and census material was being transported to different areas of the country.

He affirmed all arrangements, including the deployment of security personnel, would be completed in accordance with the timeline. He averred training of enumerators had nearly been completed and they would subsequently be posted at different census blocks across the country. He also apprised the minister of the publicity campaign being undertaken by the PBS for creating awareness among the masses about the census.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar also chaired a meeting to review preparations for the upcoming census.

Dar opined that the exercise should be carried out professionally with the coordination of the departments concerned.

The minister held the exercise would help obtain the much-needed data for equitable allocation of resources for different areas of the country. “This is a very crucial exercise and full dedication of government bodies and involvement of the general public is the key to making this exercise a complete success,” Dar said.