Population census in Pakistan

Sankar Ray

Opposition from the Baloch national parties to the   Sixth population and housing census of Pakistan that began in mid-March is problematic. Most of the Baloch political parties expressed their displeasure with the manner the census is being carried out. They apprehend that untrained officials would count the illegal Afghan immigrants living there ever since they had fled the war-ravaged hearth and home in Afghanistan. According to a rough estimate (not by Statistical survey) those immigrants number more than three million. They came pouring in since end-1979 when the Soviet army pushed in to fight Talibans who with the help of CIA entered Afghanistan interiors six months before the Russians.
Initially, Balochistan emotionally welcomed their Afghan brothers, most of whom preferred to reside in seven Afghan-dominated districts, although a section of Balochs chose to remain restrained. But in course of time, the authorities as also balochs in general got annoyed with the strangers when the latter began settling in Balochistan. The population of Balochistan is estimated at 34 million. Census operations may hit speed-breakers in the SWAT river valley of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to strong presence of Islamic terrorists. Nonetheless, logistics has been beefed up to help enumerators do their work.
From the economic and social development angle, the on-going census is very important, especially because of housing enumeration which is an innovative step.  Firstly, it has been taking place after almost a two-decade gap. Secondly, it is a real life experience that barring population census data, economic development and social programmes cannot be planned even at micro-level. Third, the responsibility of census enumeration has been entrusted to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, headed by Statisticians unlike in India where population census is done under the Registrar General, normally a bureaucrat. However, resumption of population census which used to be decennial in Pakistan since 1951 hit speed-breakers as the federal government was in two minds and dilly-dallied on grant of monetary allocation.  The PBS sought for allocation of Pak Rs 14.5 billion which is not high considering genuine difficulties in conducting the de-facto and de-jure counting.
The census set-up in Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s was under the Ministry of Home Affairs. The first three censuses were conducted by it. It was forked out of the MHA in 1972 and a permanent organisation for population census came into being under the Ministry of Interior but there were two concerns: Registration organisation and secretariat of Census Commissioner.  In 1976 the two were merged, leading to formation of Census & Registration Organisation. Two years later, it was split into two separate departments. The Population Census Organisation was placed under the Statistics Division. In 2011, the responsibility was shifted to the PBS, following promulgation of General Statistics (Re-organization) Act, 2011. Now the Census (Population & Housing) is a federal subject, listed at serial number 38 of Federal Legislation list, Part-1, Fourth Schedule, and Constitution of Pakistan.
The first census of Pakistan was conducted in 1951, the second in 1961 and the third in 1972 instead of 1971 due to political environment in the country and war with India. The fourth census was held in March 1981. The fifth one, due in 1991 could be held in March, 1998 due to nebulous political situation. 
However, demographers and math-statisticians of PBS have been in touch with the Indian Statistical Institute albeit informally in the main.  Their goal is to make the programme objective and useful for the administrators.
The present population of Pakistan is close to 185 million, but the population bomb is ticking, warned well-known Pak mathematical physicist Pervez Hoodbloy. “Only a miracle can now prevent Pakistan from becoming 400 million people in around 35 years”, he said while talking about the Sixth Population and Housing Census. For him, rising population is the fourth greatest threat to the troubled state, after “corruption, bad governance and religious terrorism”. Bantering those who are fond of tagging everything , including the general and moral decay to Indian and American conspiracies, and general moral decay, the vocal anti-nuclear crusader, puts his concern sarcastically, “few, if any, waste sleep worrying about the country’s exploding population. Some educated people do have misgivings, but they show concern only when prodded.” He ridicules the ultras for whom every new born “comes with a guaranteed rizq (provision) stamped on its forehead” The scientist says bluntly that ‘Pakistan will eventually run out of physical space. This is what the law of exponential growth says’
Interestingly, according to the CIA World Factbook, birthrates in Pakistan have fallen from 32.11 in 2000 to 23.19 in 2014, contrary to the statement from rooftops by a section of demographers that birth rates are declining and doubling times are increasing. One has to await the results of the census. Followed by the same will be a series of post-enumeration sample studies that will make the country free from imperfections to a considerable extent. In this, PBS will emulate India, it is learnt. (IPA)

Sunday, 9 April, 2017