Why census numbers matter?



By Zahid Asghar

We are living in a world where data are ubiquitous. Data are used not only by business organizations to maximize their profits, but it has also strong socio-economic significance. Data have great significance both for socio-economic development and political economy of Pakistan.

It is an irony that we lack data for most of the poor countries of the world and above all, we lack it for the poorest of these countries.

Census is controversial in many countries of the world mainly because of political reasons. Pakistan is also among them. It has conducted its 5th census in 1998 after a gap of 16 years while it has conducted its 6th census in 2017 with a gap of 19 years. Main reason for this delay in census is political as our national and provincial assembly seats and new electoral constituencies are based on the results of these census. Provinces have their certain reservations regarding census results.



Sindh has raised its voice against acceptance of census 2017 results. In order to address this issue, it was decided that a 5% post-enumeration third-party validation would be conducted before presenting the summary of final results. Statistics division has now conveyed to the prime minister that getting third-party audit after a delay of one year is not viable as long time has passed after the original exercise started in March 15 last year. Such audits are usually conducted within 2 months after the completion of census exercise. Whether it’s a genuine argument or not, one has to see how much population change within a year can take place under de-jure system of enumeration. Under de-jure system immigrants will be counted at place of their original residence. Population change should only be equal to natural population growth rate which can easily be calculated.


Pakistan is a paradise for donors and right data will help donor agencies to spend money relatively efficiently.


Why Sindh is so vocal regarding census 2017 results? It has genuine reasons since census 2017 was under de jure system, therefore, many people who migrated to Sindh over last couple of years or illegal residents will not be counted in Karachi/Sindh. Karachi local government has to bear the burden of these people in terms of service delivery (roads, health, water etc) but it does not get due share in number of provincial/national seats nor in financial resources under NFC award.

Another reason for Census 2017 results importance is allocation of resources under National Finance Commission (NFC) from federation to provinces. These are mainly based on population count.

No provincial government wants its population proportion should show decrease since it will reduce their share in the pie.

Rent seekers have also their stakes in underestimating urban area. This makes most of the suburbs as rural and have not to pay taxes to city government but enjoys all the facilities of city government.

Definition of urban vs rural is another issue which is not settled so far. Besides economic problem associated with defining urban boundaries, there are strong political reasons. Political dimension of data is most serious in the province of Sindh where Karachi and Hyderabad population has significant role for decision making. The proportion of urban and rural population in Sindh will decide the number of seats for both regions. Job quota will be decided on the basis of this population.

Our current census results have very strong political aspects and there is need to make an amendment in the constitution. This constitutional amendment should de-link population from political dimensions for correct count of data. This correct count will help for right kind of interventions related to education, health, housing etc.


Zahid Asghar is a faculty member at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad and tweets @Zahedasghar



Disclaimer: This is a guest post. The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the Data Stories.