After a gap of 19 years, the politically challenging census has begun in Pakistan. There are several things that need to be taken into account and some decisions need to be revisited. 200,000 army personnel have been appointed, whereas, 91,000 civilian enumerators will be at their disposal. The entire process will cost around Rs14 billion. With such a cost, the census has to be error free, and must not miss out on factoring in any demographic.

According to official reports, the entire activity will only concentrate on conducting a nationwide headcount. It will include basic demographics – gender, age, marital status and religion. A significant number of data will be missing on disabilities, internal migration, mortality and fertility. Expatriates, who moved before six months, will also not be taken into account.

There is strong political pressure against the census including the above-mentioned information. If the census highlights a change in the demographics, this will result in the change in the number of provincial seats in the National Assembly. Change in the demographics will also produce a change in the voting strength of political parties. Same is the case with the National Finance Commission (NFC) award; which is only based on the population of Pakistan. A change in the demographics will also demand a reorientation in the resource sharing formula. Punjab’s lion’s share in the NFC award might finally be challenged as a result.

Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has very conveniently decided to omit this vital information, and the reason provided by them is lack of sufficient time. However, the argument fails in front of the fact that the census this year will be a 70-day exercise. Previously, the census used to be conducted in two weeks. They can plan to include every detail. This is a great opportunity to do it right, for who knows when the next census will take place.

Independent economists have been pointing out a marked augmentation in the failure of PBS to reconcile data with other government and industry’s data sources since PML-N took over the reins of government. The results of the census will have political and economic implications. However, political manipulations have overridden the economic implications. We cannot afford this. The census has to be statistically sound, and honest, no matter what the consequences for major parties. For its own credibility, and for the principle of scientific truth, the census must be put above party politics by the PBS so that it too, like many other institutions and polices, is not tainted by the spectre of political corruption.