Cut in Karachi population – a cause of jubilation or political feud?

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As the deadline for the completion of the seventh census in Karachi looms, the city’s population is expected to show a decrease. This development could be an indication of the success of birth control measures. However, this positive news may turn into a political feud, as major political parties express their dissatisfaction over the likely results.

According to a news story published by Urdu New, the original deadline for the census was April 4, 2023, but it was extended to April 10 due to incomplete population and house enumeration in some areas. A further extension to April 15, 2023, was set after this. Despite this, prominent political parties in Karachi, particularly the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamaat-e-Islami, are calling for another extension.

Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, has accused the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics of using outdated and irregular procedures. Mustafa Kamal, the leader of MQM, claims that his party’s efforts have led to the extension. Faisal Sabzwari, another MQM leader, has stated that according to Nadra records, there are 19 million registered children at Karachi addresses.

In Islamabad, there are concerns about the impact of the census on resource distribution and political representation. Fawad Chaudhry, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has accused MQM of reducing Karachi’s population, which may result in the loss of two national seats.

During the sixth census in 2017, Karachi’s population was reported as 10.625 million on the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics website. In the seventh census, the population has been shown as 10.347 million, with the agency estimating that 10% of the population is yet to be counted.

Political parties are concerned that under-representing the population will result in decreased political representation and fiscal rights for the province. Journalist Abdul Jabbar Nasir cites a third-party audit report claiming that about 20% of households have been left out of the census, and 15% have not been counted. He notes that no single political party can be blamed, as the census process involves up to 11,000 personnel from different departments, including Urdu-speaking employees of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation.

Abdul Jabbar Nasir expressed concern about the potential impact of the inaccurate population count on the province of Sindh. He stated that it could result in the reduction of two seats in the National Assembly and four to five seats in the Provincial Assembly in Karachi. This could also affect Sindh’s share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award. As rural Sindh’s population is 60%, and urban Sindh’s is 40%, an incorrect population count of Karachi could result in a 7% reduction in the urban areas’ quota.

MQM Pakistan tried to ensure the transparency of the census and set up camps for this purpose. However, the response from citizens was poor, according to Abdul Jabbar Nasir. He blames the Sindh government as a whole for the census irregularities or incompleteness in Karachi, stating that the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary, and Deputy Commissioners have access to all the data and should have provided security and adequate facilities to the census staff. However, citizens’ inattention is also a contributing factor, as census staff often found locked homes or were turned away by children claiming nobody was present.

Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, a respected figure in the country’s democratic process, attributes the issue to a lack of staff training and administrative negligence. In an interview with Urdu News, Mehboob emphasizes the need for transparency in the census process. He believes that not only should the staff be trained properly, but there should also be administrative checks to ensure the accuracy of the data.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) says they conducted a census authorized by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) developed the software, and over 121,000 census staff were trained at 992 locations across the country. Despite difficulties in urban areas like Karachi, where census staff were unable to access many multi-storied buildings and gated communities, there were few citizen complaints according to Sarwar Gondal, the PBS spokesperson. However, Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi has established its own complaint cell and is now receiving complaints from aggrieved individuals. Security was a major issue, with over 10,000 personnel deployed to secure census staff in Karachi, including 4,000 police personnel in one day. Gondal stressed the critical role of assistant commissioners in ensuring security but added that they failed to fulfill their responsibility.