The Core Questions

Pakistan urgently needs a fresh census to be able to set its priorities right

Despite a rapidly-increasing population, Pakistan has not carried out a census for the last 18 years. The country was ranked the seventh largest population of the world in the light of the 1998 census. The census of 1961 is considered the most comprehensive among all censuses of Pakistan.

Pakistan started preparing for the sixth census about a decade ago. The basic questionnaire for the census has been finalised while other preparations wait for the federal government’s nod. In early 2015, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) approved that the sixth population census would be conducted in March 2016 with the support of the armed forces, as was done during the 1998 census. Earlier, in 2010, the CCI also approved conducting of census in 2011 but the then government of Pakistan Peoples Party deferred it due to various political and security reasons.

A brief look at the 1998 census of Pakistan shows that three separate questionnaires were used for house-listing and collection of information on population and listing other features. The core questions were about: name, relationship with the head of the household, nationality, sex, age, marital status, nationality, religion, mother tongue, literacy, educational qualifications, and possession of national identity card.

The question regarding the characteristics of a household included number of rooms, type of construction, ventilation, type of construction material, facility of drinking water, source of light, fuel used, type of kitchen, bathroom facilities, habits like watching television, to listening radio and reading newspapers, etc. Another questionnaire included asking the field of education, cause of disability, diseases, etc.

The proposed questionnaire for the next census also contains a similar set of 12 questions and seeks information regarding the household.

The purpose of these questions, according to a senior official at Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), is “to gather data about different basic things like how many people own houses, how many have constructed houses, how many have the facility of drinking water and bathrooms, etc. Such questions help in making further policies regarding the provision of basic rights,” he says.

The census report is also compartmentalised in different sections. One is the main report that describes the national data. Further, it splits by making provincial reports, district reports, and union council reports. Because of increasing urbanisation and expansion of big cities, separate reports are prepared for help in planning.

In Pakistan, the census organisation was first established in 1950 under the Home Ministry. The first three censuses were conducted by this organisation working under the interior ministry. After the 1972 census, the Census Organisation was established on a permanent footing as an attached department of the Ministry of Interior so as to maintain expertise, experience and continuity.

In 1973, another attached department of Registration organisation was created and in 1976 both these departments were merged, naming it Census & Registration Organization. In March 1978, the organisation was split into two separate departments and Population Census Organization was placed under the Statistics Division, which remains as such due to promulgation of General Statistics (Re-organization) Act, 2011.

Conducting census is now the responsibility of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS). The federal government has allocated Rs14.5 billion to conduct the whole process of census out of which about Rs5 billion have been released till now.

For the next census, the government is getting rid of manual compilation of record by opting for scanning procedure. Data from every form will not be entered manually but scanned. In the developed world, there are online filling of census forms or giving tablets to surveyors for entering data for quick and automatic tabulation.

The most important factor in a census is dealing with apprehensions about its accuracy. These apprehensions arise from the link of census figures with political and economic rights of the provinces as laid out in the constitution. In 1998, a system of inbuilt mechanisms of counter checks was devised to counter tendencies of error.

For every census, first a household survey is conducted to know the size of a family. This was conducted in 2011-2012 as a preparatory measure for census but later, the government cancelled its report due to political controversies. Now, the survey would be conducted again before census as the government had ordered the PBS not to share its findings.

The Household Integrated Economic Survey (HIES) has been conducted with some breaks since 1963. However, in 1990 the HIES questionnaire was revised in order to address the requirements of a new system of national accounts. The four surveys of 1990-91, 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1996-97 were conducted using the revised questionnaire. In 1998-99, the HIES data collection methods and the questionnaire were revised to reflect the integration of HIES with the Pakistan Integrated Household Survey (PIHS).

The HIES was conducted as an Integrated Survey with PIHS in 1998-99 and 2001-02. Subsequently, the survey was renamed in 2004 as Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) Survey and the same module of HIES remains intact. PSLM, (district level) Survey and PSLM/HIES (national/provincial level) Survey are conducted on alternating years. Before this survey, four rounds of HIES were conducted during 2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2011-12.

The last round of the HIES was conducted in 2011-2012 covering 15807 households. It provided important information on household income, savings, liabilities, and consumption expenditure and consumption patterns at the national and provincial level with urban/rural breakdown. It also included requisite data on consumption for the Planning & Development Division for estimating poverty.

The survey, according to some officials, demonstrated a trend of over-counting in the areas of Sindh and Balochistan as compared to other provinces. This could have created an impact on the population proportion of all the provinces as compared with the census of 1998.

According to some estimates, the share of Sindh in population may have increased by six per cent and that of Balochistan by two per cent while the share of Punjab may have gone down by eight per cent.

Consensus areas

Are there areas in Pakistan where census can be conducted without calling in the army?

In February this year, the government told the National Assembly that the census 2016 would be conducted provided the army personnel were available for security purposes. This was to give credibility to the survey and overcome all political challenges.

Some experts believe the army may be required only in a conflict zone, such as in parts of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Karachi.

It is believed that census can be conducted without calling in the army, especially in Punjab, interior Sindh, Gilgit Baltistan, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The government’s decision to conduct census with the support and supervision of the Pakistan army is in accordance with the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI).

As the whole country has been divided in about 1,667,000 blocks and each block consists of 200 to 250 houses, so with the 167,000 surveyors in these blocks, the government needs at least a similar number of army men.

Besides this, for an operational setup, including in the conflict zones, the total number of required army men goes up to around 275,000. Unless Pakistan army provides this number of armed forces, census cannot be held. Provincial bureaus of statistics have been taken on board. The provincial governments would provide field force for the conduct of the census.

The number of census blocks in 1998 was 140,000 and the census survey was conducted from March 2 to 18 throughout the country, including FATA, Northern Areas, and AJK with full support of the armed forces.

By: Waqar Gillani 

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