Opposition parties voiced serious concerns over the preliminary results of the national census, questioning the authenticity of the figures released by the statistics division.
Different parties hold different suspicions regarding the census exercise – Sindh is suspicious of the federal government while Karachi and other urban areas are sceptical of the provincial government.
“One of the reasons for the suspicions is that all the members of the governing council and the functional members of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics responsible for the present exercise are drawn from one province — Punjab.”, former Karachi Metropolitan Corporation administrator Fahim Zaman pointed out.
“While both parties [PPP and MQM] also appear convinced that Sindh may not get a genuine headcount they also appear to be extremely suspicious of each other due to the urban-rural divide in the province.”, he added.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is also concerned about the fact that 30% of Sindh’s population do not hold computerised national identity cards (CNICs), which might give an excuse to the Punjab-based census authorities to not list these people.
Meanwhile, Karachi has its fair share of problems pertaining to the census exercise.
According to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) MNA Ali Raza Abidi, MQM has a trust deficit with both the federal and provincial governments. However, he was more concerned with the threat posed to Karachi’s representation by the provincial government. He stated that Karachi’s population is deliberately shown as lesser than the actual in order to prevent Karachi-based leadership from forming the government in the provincial assembly. When Karachi’s population and houses are misrepresented, it allows delimitation of constituencies along discriminatory lines. He pointed out that an MPA from interior Sindh gets elected to represent 250,000 people while the lawmaker from Karachi gets elected by being voted by 500,000 people. This is because of the unfair delimitation of constituencies, which is legitimised by manipulated census data. In turn, this allows PPP to form a government as it gets a larger number of MPAs with the help of more constituencies despite representing a lesser number of people in reality, said Abidi.
Abidi also talked about an area that falls in his constituency known as Mehmoodabad Number Two. According to him, this area was developed after 2008 and has around 6,000 houses. Since the census authorities are using the maps of 2007 to divide the city into blocks, the area was divided into three blocks despite the fact that one block is supposed to comprise 250-400 houses as per the census regulations. After Abidi wrote to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics head Asif Bajwa, three more blocks were made in the area.
Abidi claimed that this will result in listing a lesser number of houses and an eventual under-representation of the population of the area. According to him, other areas of Karachi such as Surjani Town, Ittehad Town, Kati Pahari, Mauripur, Bengali Para and Gadap Town were also developed after 2008 but old maps are being used. He added that many of these areas have had an influx of migrants because of floods in Sindh and the three military operations in the northern parts of the country, which has resulted in an increase in the population of the city.
According to a report, MQM-Pakistan head Dr Farooq Sattar also approached the court on March 6th, a few days before the census exercise kicked off. According to his petition, the blocks in urban areas of Sindh were counted as 47.65% during the last census but for the upcoming census, the blocks have been reduced to 45%. He said they have raised the point in the petition that Sindh’s urban population must have increased during the past 18 years due to urbanisation, yet the government has decreased the number of blocks so as to manipulate the census. As the blocks in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur have been reduced, houses and head count in those cities would also be counted less than their actual numbers, he maintained. The MQM leader feared that contrary to facts, the government is going to show increased rural and decreased urban populace in the census. He accused the government of manipulating the census to compile flawed voter lists, doctored in the ruling party’s favour.