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Council of Common Interests stays divided on 2017 census

Council of Common Interests stays divided on 2017 census

• Sindh continues to air reservations over population figures
• HEC to solidify regional centres to boost liaison with provinces

ISLAMABAD: The Council of Common Interests (CCI), at a meeting on Wednesday, again failed to reach consensus on the controversial national population census-2017 as Sindh continued to express strong reservations over its results.

The CCI has been unable to approve the census, which has been on its agenda for the past three years, due to failure of the Centre to allay reservations shown by the Sindh government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party.

The 44th meeting of the CCI was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan and attended by the federal ministers, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, Sindh CM Murad Ali Shah, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM Mahmood Khan, Balochistan CM Jam Kamal Alyani and chief secretaries of the four provinces.

“On notifying census-2017 results, it was decided to hold a virtual meeting on Monday to take a final decision on the issue,” said an official press release issued by the Prime Minister Office.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has inherited the census issue as the disagreement of Sindh on the census appeared during the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government in 2017 and since then the issue has lingered on.

The Sindh government and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement have outright rejected the results of census-2017 since day one complaining that the population of Sindh and Karachi has been shown lesser than the actual one in the census.

In an important decision, the meeting decided to establish a permanent secretariat of the CCI as required under Article 154(3) of the Constitution.

The meeting approved the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority’s (Nepra) annual report for 2019-20 and the State of Industry Report 2020.

As directed by 43th meeting of the CCI, the observations of the provinces were incorporated into Nepra’s annual report for 2018-19 and the State of Industry Report, 2019.

The CCI approved an amendment to Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Policy 2012.

A report on implementation of the decisions previously taken by of CCI was also presented before the meeting.

On the issue of import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and implementation of Articles 158 and 172(3) of the Constitution, it was decided to constitute a committee, comprising the ministers for planning and energy and the special assistants to the PM on power and petroleum, to hold consultations with the provinces to evolve a consensus on the way forward to meet the challenge of dwindling local gas reserves and increasing domestic gas requirement.

It has been learnt that KP and Sindh have demanded that there should be a uniform price of LNG.

Punjab complained that it was also bearing the cost of electricity theft being committed in all other three provinces.

It was decided in the meeting that the Higher Education Commission (HEC) would be the sole standard setting national organisation with regards to higher education in the country. The HEC will strengthen its regional centers for better representation and coordination with the provinces.

To further improve ease of doing business and harmonisation of quality and standards across the country, it was decided that the provinces would notify harmonised standards set by the Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) by repealing their own standards. It was also agreed that harmonisation of standards, standardised labelling and certification marks logo would remain exclusive domain of the PSQCA.

On distribution of Zakat funds among the provinces/federal areas in the wake of 25th Constitution Amendment, the meeting agreed on the Zakat fund distribution formula. It decided that after merger of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Zakat funds for the area, as per the agreed formula, would be transferred to KP for distribution among deserving people of the merged districts.

Spokesman for the Sindh government Murtaza Wahab said CM Murad Ali Shah was of the view that a meeting of the council should be held after every 90 days.

“The biggest issue at this time is the census 2017. The population of Sindh and Balochistan has been shown less in the census,” he said.

Mr Wahab said all political parties had agreed on third party audit of the census but the government was not ready to do so. “It is impossible to carry out proper planning without correct census,” he added.

He said in the CCI meeting the Sindh chief minister also raised the issue of handing over administrative control of three hospitals in the province to the Centre. “These hospitals have been treating over 8.3 million patients from different parts of Sindh and over 0.3m from other provinces (every year) since 2012. These hospitals serve patients from all over Pakistan free of cost,” he added.

Since 2012, 13,075 patients were treated by cyber-knife and 48 per cent of those patients were not from Sindh, Mr Wahab said.

He said the Supreme Court had ordered the federal government to return the money to the Sindh government it had spent on these hospitals but not a single penny had so far been paid to the provincial government.

“The Sindh government has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court and the federal government should wait for its decision,” the spokesman said.

In a separate meeting, the prime minister reviewed law and order situation in the country.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021

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