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MEANINGS are given in BOLD

With about 200 million people, Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country. It is also the second most populous Muslim country. But these figures are not drawn from a census. It’s almost 20 years since Pakistan has conducted such an exercise. The country was scheduled to hold a census in 2008, but the then-Pakistan People’s Party-led government cried off from the exercise, citing security concerns and lack of finances. The Pakistan Muslim League, which assumed office in 2013, displayed similar reluctance (unwillingness or disinclination to do something) till the country’s Supreme Court decided to take matters in hand.

In December last year, it gave the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics three months to begin work on the country’s sixth census. But the exercise that began on Wednesday will be little more than a headcount. More than 90,000 enumerators (a person employed in taking a census of the population) will collect statistics on gender, age, marital status and religion, but they have no mandate (compulsory) to collect data on significant social indicators such as fertility, disability, mortality and internal migration. Only nine of the country’s 70 languages are listed in the census forms.

But even a sketchy (not thorough; dishonest) headcount could have political and social significance in the strife-torn (divided by violent conflict) country. In Pakistan, censuses are used for constitutional functions such as the distribution of national assembly seats and inter-province (existing or carried on between provinces of the same country) resource allocation. Currently, 50 per cent of the resources go to Punjab and 183 of the 342 members of the country’s National Assembly are from the province. In Pakistan’s last census in 1998, Punjab recorded a slower per annum population growth rate than Sindh. A continuation of this trend could upset the province’s clout in national affairs.

For the country’s planners, decision-makers and scholars, Pakistan’s sixth census holds the key to explaining what has changed in the country since 1998. In some of the strife-torn parts of the country, it could allow the government to take stock of what has survived the brutalities (harshness) of conflict (a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.). It could make the planners rethink some of their paradigms (a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model) and priorities (the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important than others).


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