ISLAMABAD - Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday gave approval for deployment of 200,000 troops for the sixth national population and housing census.

The approval came after the federal government through the defence ministry requested the army for allocating troops for the exercise, scheduled for March 15 and March 16.

“The COAS approves plan to support conduct of sixth population and housing census. Up to 200,000 troops will be employed while continuing other security responsibilities,” Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet.

Approval of the Army Chief has come in around three weeks after the government announced schedule of the population census, after securing approval of the Council of Common Interests, following apex court’s directing the government to hold census by mid-March.

According to the ISPR, the army will assist the government in conducting the census and at the same time clarified that the allocation of the personnel would in no way affect the routine security duty and the ongoing military operations.

Chief of Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) Asif Bajwa said the military, Pakistan Rangers and police would ensure safety of the staffers. He let it out that around Rs7 billion would be spent on security arrangements during the exercise.

The population census was long overdue and had been put off several times since 2008 on one or the other pretext. The last census was held in 1998 during the previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The incumbent government could not hold census since coming to power in 2013 after provincial governments of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cited precarious law and order situation. Last year, the army had expressed its inability to allocate such a large number of personnel for carrying out the exercise.

Deeming these as lame excuses, the apex court kept pressing the government for early conduction of this vital national exercise.

On court’s pressure, the government had hurriedly called the meeting of the Council of Common Interest in the second half of December last year and finally came up with the accord to hold the census and house count simultaneously.

On January 3 it was reported that the census would be conducted in two phases and the first phase would begin simultaneously in all provinces.

An article, “Why Pakistan needs to have a national census”, published in Daily Times in Nov last year, shed light on the importance of this national exercise.

It said “almost all countries across the world regularly partake in collecting a snapshot of their entire population so that broad specificities on national demography in conjunction with its social, economic and housing characteristics can be gathered.

“For a country that already suffers from an unchecked population growth, it is of utmost importance that Pakistan ascertains the rapid changes taking place in its working-age population…. It [census] should be held once every 10 years [as per constitution], but in Pakistan all the development planning over the last 18 years has been done without knowledge about the actual number of citizens.

“It [census] is also necessary because the representation of the provinces in the National Assembly is decided on the basis of population, and it is helpful in the determination of provincial shares in the federal tax revenue.

“[Moreover] census will give a comprehensive picture of the social and living conditions of people… [It] provides the data that allows public resources to be equitably shared across the country, and to ensure that services at local level are relevant to all the people who live there… A reliable census is important to adequately plan growth, deliver services and solve the country’s problems.”