Impact of National Census By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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Impact of National Census
By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

Every country needs up-to-date information about its residents for purposes of planning, national development and improvement of the quality of life and Pakistan is not an exceptional case where 6th National Census, after a long time period of 19 years, is currently underway. This is normally a practice in developed world to hold population censuses at least every 10 years and household census every 3 years on regular basis.

In this digital age this is really not a tough task to collect authentic data but unfortunately, the history of every past census in Pakistan is linked with various controversies and a number of question marks were always raised about its authenticity and procedures by different segments of the society. The distribution of national resources between federal and provincial governments through National Finance Commission (NFC Award) is one of the hot topic which remains under debate. Before 1971, the resources were allocated on the basis of area rather than population on which Eastern Pakistan (current Bangladesh), having lesser area but larger population, had reservations but after the separation of eastern part, the formula of revenue distribution on the basis of population was adopted. As a result, various ethnic and provincial elements started to use different tactics to seek more and more shares by hook and crook. On the other hand, Non-Muslim citizens are of the view that their population is not shown correctly in the census results just for the sake of keeping them out from the national mainstream.

Although, the Constitution of Pakistan made mandatory for holding national census every ten years, and the first national census took place in 1951 but in the past, hurdles were also created in the way. The 1991 census which was postponed due to political uncertainty was held in 1998 by the PMLN government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but the PPP Government failed to fulfill the constitutional responsibility for holding next census due in 2008.

It is grave matter of concern that at the time of independence, the population of Non-Muslim Pakistanis which was 23 percent was decreased to just 6% in the results of last national census held in 1998. According to 1951 census, the population of Pakistani Hindu community was 12.9%, which made Pakistan the 2nd largest Hindu populous country in the world. Even today, the latest report of the Election Commission of Pakistan declares that Pakistani Hindus dominate the Non-Muslim vote bank with 50% of total Non-Muslim votes. It is highly unethical for mentioning Hindu community as Hindu and Scheduled Caste in the ongoing census forms. Such tactics forced the Pakistan Hindu Council to believe that the motive behind this is to divide the population strength of country’s largest religious minority. Similarly, other groups are also showing reservations on different issues.

As the PMLN Government is honored to hold another national census, I believe that all the reservations and grievances must be addressed in a democratic way to make the census results acceptable for all citizens. In my views, all those people who are residing in Pakistan must be registered. If someone has acquire property or residence in some other province than he must have same equal rights as the locals enjoy and most particularly, Balochistan leadership must also be taken on board in this regard.

Rural and urban division plays a pivotal role throughout the political history of Sindh but from last nineteen years, Karachi seems to be no more Mohajir-majority city due to settlement of people belonging to other ethnicities. Migration from rural areas to cities and changes in the proportion of population are likely to impact the upcoming electoral politics of Sindh. Similarly, the censes results would also change the future political scenario for the Saraiki, Pothwari, Hindko and other languages speaking people residing in Punjab, the largest province having around 60% of overall population.

Necessary legislation for carving out new provinces could also be considered while the merging of FATA in KPK province must ensure to bring progress to the area and introduce political awareness as well. There is also a dire need to prepare a long-term policy -based on humanitarian grounds- for Afghan and other refugees residing in Pakistan. The census results may also lead to reorganize the electoral constituencies in future. In current parliamentary scenario, it is quite interesting to note that one MNA is elected with five thousand votes whereas the other is elected with one hundred thousand votes and unfortunately access to Parliament for Non-Muslim citizens is subject to pick & choose selection by different political parties. This practice is a remnant of former dictatorship which must be discouraged in a democratic society.

I think the increase in the population will ultimately result in creating of new constituencies and in such a case, at least 15 constituencies for non-Muslims seats would also be introduced so that they can select their true representatives through the dual vote. We must understand that the grievances of non-Muslims and smaller provinces could only be addressed if census results will be prepared honestly with a sense of national responsibility.

People must also have trust that in the presence of social media, vibrant TV channels and independent judiciary, it is not quite easy to maneuver the ongoing census as compared to the past. It will also be a major achievement of current government to conduct the ongoing census in such a democratic way that unlike the bitter experiences of past, no one should put question mark on the results of current census. On the other side, parties using ethnic and provincial cards must say good bye to old tactics for including fake population data just to occupy more national resources whereas every citizen – understanding his national responsibility – must provide the accurate information which will lay foundation to make policies for fair distribution of resources.

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The writer is a member of National Assembly and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council who tweets at @RVankwani

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