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Despite SC ruling, govt insisting on census in March

Despite SC ruling, govt insisting on census in March

ISLAMABAD: Despite the apex court’s insistence that the census be held as soon as possible, the government seems adamant on holding the exercise in March 2017.

Summing up the government’s stance on the matter in the Senate on Monday, Law Minister Zahid Hamid rejected the impression that the government was not serious about holding the census, saying that having a head count was actually beneficial for the province of Punjab.

He said funds had been allocated for the census, but at the last minute, the exercise had to be postponed due to the unavailability of personnel from the armed forces.

Mr Hamid said the Council of Common Interests (CCI) decided that the exercise should be carried out, subject to the availability of armed forces personnel, in the interests of transparency.

The deployment of just under 300,000 military personnel would be required for the purpose, he said, adding that the government was working on a proposal that would require fewer soldiers.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani remarked that the army was busy tackling internal security issues and referred to the heightened tension with India along the Line of Control (LoC), saying: “I do not see you getting army [personnel] in such numbers in the near future”.

When he suggested that the CCI should be convened to devise an alternative, he was informed that the summary to convene a CCI meeting had already been moved.

PTI Senator Mohsin Aziz, who moved the motion to discuss the delay in the census, regretted that while the exercise was to be conducted every ten years, a census had been due since 1998. This exercise was essential to economic planning, he said, adding that budget formulation and planning for health, education and other important areas also depended on it. He termed the delay in the census as the government’s biggest failure.

Senator Aziz observed that the census would not take place for years if it was linked with the availability of armed forces personnel and recalled that the government had promised to hold the census in 2016, but did not fulfil that promise.

Senator Ilyas Bilour proposed hiring the services of retired armymen, pointing out that two-thirds of our troops were engaged in Operation Zarb-i-Azb, as well as guarding the eastern and western borders.

He said the exercise was essential for the National Finance Commission (NFC) award and the delimitation of constituencies for elections.

PPP’s Saleem Mandviwala was of the opinion that setting the condition of availability of armed forces personnel would delay the exercise for an indefinite period.

PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar alleged that the government was not serious about holding a transparent census as it was afraid that Punjab’s percentage in the total population of the country would shrink. He said that under the Constitution, the deployment of the army was not mandatory for carrying out a census.

Treasury member Retired Gen Abdul Qayyum said the PML-N had conducted the 1998 census and the credit of next census would also go to the same party. He wondered why the PPP had not carried out the exercise during its five years in power.

The house unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the government should make changes to accountability laws to discover moveable and immovable benami properties and companies. The resolution also recommended a handsome award or a percentage of the amount for those who identify and inform NAB about such properties and companies.

Through another unanimous resolution, the house recommended that women should be given adequate representation on the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Currently, the strength of the CII is supposed to remain between eight and twenty and council must have at least one woman member.

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2016

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