‘Doubtful’ census results may cause serious repercussions for Karachi, moot told
KARACHI: All major political parties in the metropolis and civil society representatives at a panel discussion under the banner of ‘Save Karachi’ campaign on Friday questioned the results of the population census that they believed could give way to speculation about an attempt to divert resources from Karachi where they are actually needed.
The results of the population census that had been carried out after a gap of 26 years show a growth rate that is far below the estimated figures despite the influx of people from across the country into the metropolis over the years, lending strength to doubts over the credibility of the whole exercise.
The panel discussion, which was organised by the National Forum for Environment and Health and Environment Management Consultants, brought together leadership of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pak Sarzameen Party, Jamaat-i-Islami, and the representatives of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce, media and some non-governmental organisations.
Dr Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, chairman of the FPCCI’s standing committee on banking, credit and finance, said that the questionable results of the census will lead to serious repercussions if we ignore them now. “We have so many people from other cities and even countries pouring into Karachi, as this city welcomes all with open arms. But the people need utilities and civic amenities, and when we are unable to provide them these according to their needs due to having the wrong number of people down on paper, we have a big problem,” he said.
“The National Finance Commission award will be based on this new census,” he said, while suggesting a sample census be carried out in some 20 area blocks under the observation and monitoring by the army before tallying its results with the results of the recent census.
At this, senior journalist and analyst Mazhar Abbas said everyone, especially politicians, looked towards the army after failing to do anything themselves. “By looking towards the army for reforms, you are accepting your failure. And when the army does step in, you are against the army,” he said.
“Our political elite have no sense of belonging, as they spend a lot of their time abroad. Politics is not about making speeches in the parliament. It is about addressing the basic issues of the people,” he reminded.
Need for follow-up
Economist Dr Kaiser Bengali said that no census was perfect therefore follow-ups do happen. “If there are 14,000 census blocks in Karachi, census can be repeated for one per cent of them to tally the results. It should not take more than two months,” he said.
He said that usually household sizes in rural areas were bigger than those in urban areas. But it’s strange that in this census there was hardly any difference in the two, he added. In fact, in Sindh the urban household size was shown slightly more than what it showed in the rural areas. “The variations point towards data that seems manufactured instead of collected through legwork,” he added.
“To raise the per capita income, there should be a [lesser] growth rate. But it has turned out to be more than what it was in Shaukat Aziz’s time,” he added.
“But the problem here is that the government is keeping the census data confidential,” he added.
He also explained that language or religion have no influence in the census as it is just a headcount of people in an area. “No matter who you are, if you are anywhere for over six months you are to be included in the population of that area,” he said.
‘Real figures hidden’
MQM-Pakistan chief Dr Farooq Sattar said that although everyone from across the country was complaining about figures that didn’t add up in the population census, it was strange that all over Pakistan this census showed the same natural growth rate as 60 per cent. He also said that since resources depended on the population the real figures had been hidden. “Karachi is a mini-Pakistan. Every year, people come to Karachi from all over [the country]. They include Pakhtun, Punjabi and Baloch, who should also be counted when taking a headcount. If they are that many that they need representation in the provincial assembly, then they should get those seats. We have no issues with that,” he added.
“But if your census, which is your basic headcount is a lie, then nothing will work for anyone in Pakistan and everyone will bear the consequences of this,” he said.
Jamaat-i-Islami leader Hafiz Naeemur Rehman said that people who spoke about helping a certain people ended up hurting them. “We have seen that a party that claims to represent the Sindhis ends up suppressing them. We have seen that a party, which stands on the shoulders of Mohajirs, ends up doing nothing for them. Karachi belongs to all, so all need to be counted. And all need to have access to the resources that they deserve,” he said.
“According to the current census results, Karachi requires 800 million gallons of water a day, which is 400MGD less than our actual need,” he pointed out.
Game of numbers
Waseem Aftab of Pak Sarzameen Party said that the government liked playing the game of numbers. “And the population census is all about numbers,” he said.
“There are 18 towns of Karachi and most of them had a population of more than 1,000,000 earlier. Just do some quick maths to reach the correct estimate yourself,” he said.
“Had the government been honest in going about collecting data for this census, it wouldn’t hide the population blocks data from us. Think about it,” he said.
Demand to open data
Sindh Minister for Information Nasir Hussain Shah said that Pakistan would be stronger and things would run smoothly here if no one felt left out in the census. “The Sindh government had aired serious reservations when the census began. There was even a debate about working and taking down data with a pencil or a pen. What’s written with a pencil can be erased but a pen is more permanent so we insisted on pens. Then we wanted more copies of the data to be shared with district administrations but the federal government insisted on just two copies. We even went to court on the number of copies issue,” he shared.
“Now we demand to open the data collected for every population area block and the headcount details, because these things need to be cleared first before we take the next step,” he said.
“For now, we outright don’t accept the census results as the census committee doesn’t even have the representation of every province. And it is not just the PPP that is saying this, but other parties as well,” he said.
“As for Karachi, yes, it is a mini-Pakistan. You cannot cheat it like this,” he concluded.
President of the National Forum for Environment and Health Naeem Qureshi, EMC chief executive Nadeem Arif, Saquib Ansari of EMC and former administrator of Karachi Fahim Zaman also spoke.