Ahsan Iqbal directed PBS-Nadra to check Sindh concerns


ISLAMABAD: Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal on Tuesday directed the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) and National Database Registration Authority (Nadra) bigwigs to rush to Karachi for a meeting with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to allay the province’s concerns.

The directives were issued during a meeting — also attended by CM Shah via video link — of the 7th Census Monitoring Committee (CMC) that he had convened to review the progress on the country’s first digital census.

During the meeting, it was decided that the CMC would now meet every week for effective coordination and immediate resolution of issues.

The planning minister said he directed PBS chief Naeem Zafar to meet the Sindh CM with his technical team today (Wed­nesday) to address the concerns of the provincial government.

He said the federal government would take all the provinces on board on the issue of the digital census to make the exercise non-controversial. “The digital census will have an impact on the future of Pakistan and I cannot afford any kind of controversy and will not compromise on its transparency,” remarked the minister.

Mr Iqbal said this was for the first time that a digital census was being carried out in the country at a huge cost of Rs34 billion, terming it a “major national exercise”.

“It is the responsibility of all the stakeholders to make it successful,” he added. “Everyone is a partner… we will complete it [census] with consultations,” he said, reiterating the commitment that they would make every effort to make the process “as much transparent as possible to avoid any misgivings”.

Responding to a question, Mr Iqbal said the government had set April 30 as the deadline for the announcement of the final result of the census in order to provide the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) the required four months to complete the delimitation of the constituencies ahead of the general elections scheduled in October. Without elaborating, the minister said some “nationalist elements” wanted to sabotage this census process.

The minister recalled that the census was being carried out in line with the decision of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in April 2021 when Imran Khan was the prime minister. He said it was after the PPP’s decision to reject the previous census that they had decided to conduct the next census only five years after the exercise, instead of 10 years as given in the constitution.

Responding to the threat by the PPP, the source claimed that the party was doing “politics” over the issue due to political expediency ahead of the imminent elections.

He said the PPP should realise that if it continued to politicise the census and made it controversial then the Centre would have no option, but to announce elections on the basis of the already-notified 2017 census.

“If you are to do politics, then there is no logic in spending Rs34bn on a futile exercise,” said the insider, while expressing displeasure with the PPP leaders’ statements.

He claimed that the government was ready to remove valid concerns of the parties and it had decided that the head of the family would be intimated about the number of his registered family members through a message on the mobile phone.

However, he said, there were some issues with the second demand of the PPP that the digital dashboard regarding the whole exercise should be updated on daily basis, stating that the government had no objection to doing it, but there was a possibility that some elements could create “unnecessary controversies” over the data during the process.

About the MQM’s threat that it would not accept the census if Karachi’s population was shown less than 40 million, a senior government functionary said the issue was in the purview of the provincial government, which was responsible for the demarcation of Karachi’s urban areas.

He termed the demarcation issue a provincial subject and termed the MQM’s demand a result of its ongoing tussle with the PPP’s government.

Responding to a question, the official denied reports that the government had already decided to delay the general elections. He, however, said that they had the option to dissolve the National Assembly at the last moment, before the completion of its term, in order to provide the ECP 90 days to make arrangements for the elections, instead of the 60 days mentioned in the Constitution.

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