ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to the perceived foot-dragging on the part of the government over the much-needed population census, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the problem might not be solved until and unless the prime minister was summoned to the court.
The three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, which is seized with the matter, also regretted that none of the political parties came forward to become a party in the suo motu proceedings, perhaps because the status quo suited them.
The last census was carried out in 1998 and the exercise has been pending since 2008 when it became due.
The court observed that it was insisting on a fresh census because the entire democratic set-up depended on the exercise.Asks for written assurance that headcount will get under way on March 15
The bench that had taken suo motu notice of the problem also asked the government to submit an assurance in writing that it would commence a population census on March 15 and the exercise might continue until May 15. The outcomes of the exercise might be announced at some convenient date after tabulation of the data.
But Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf said the government was not in a position to hold out a commitment which it could not fulfil in future.
“You always plan in advance when you invite guests to your house, but here the entire country is being run without any strategy in the absence of reliable and actual size of the population because no census has been carried out for the last many years,” said Chief Justice Jamali.
“What if the 16 seats in the National Assembly reserved for Lahore become 22 after census because of population increase,” he asked, adding that the court would be left with no other option than to call the prime minister to the court if the government failed to commit in writing to a date about the commencement of the exercise.
When Justice Ijazul Hassan inquired about the time consumed in holding the census in 1998, Mr Ausaf replied that it took ten months to complete the process for which preparations began in 1990.
Mr Ausaf also submitted that after thorough review of the ground situation and indication of availability of troops from the armed forces the government had informed the Council of Common Interests of its readiness to conduct a census in two phases beginning in April.
He also submitted a timeframe for field operations for the sixth population and housing census, which was proposed to begin in April and concluded in June. But the court regretted that the federal government had failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation.
Referring to the CCI stance that census could not be held until April next year due to unavailability of armed forces personnel, Justice Amir Hani Muslim asked if by-elections could be held in the country despite volatile situation on the Line of Control then why not census.
He also asked the government to amend the Constitution if it did not want to hold census without the assistance of the armed forces.
The government was taking the issue of census lightly even though there was a huge difference in the population today and the number of seats in the respective legislatures, he added.
In an earlier report, the government had said that it had curtailed the requirement of troops for the exercise from 288,000 to 48,000 personnel. The court however described the delay in conducting the census for want of availability of armed forces personnel as a wrong precedent and said the election commission could also delay general elections on the same pretext. The court adjourned proceedings until Dec 7.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2016