Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has refused to use tablets for reading gas and electricity bills of households for the 7th Housing and Population Census that is to be completed this year. PBS cited shortness of time in carrying out a feasibility study for adopting this new method of collecting power bills data in what is going to be Pakistan’s first ever digital census.
The Council of Common Interests (CCI), in a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, in January, had agreed upon conducting the 7th Housing and Population Census by employing international best practices. This would entail the use of digital technology as well as a GIS monitoring system.
A number of meetings were conducted to look after the practices and methods that were to be used for a most comprehensive and fair census.The Census Monitoring Committee headed by deputy chairman planning commission, and consisting of chairman NADRA, chief secretaries, chief commissioner Islamabad and other concerned officials was formed for this purpose.
In one of such meetings, the Ministry of Energy proposed the use of digital tablets to collect barcode readings of gas and electricity bills of each household. Secretary Petroleum Division, Ali Raza Bhutta, had also suggested that PBS should arrange tablets to read consumers’ power bills for each and every household interview during the census.
However, the Chief Statistician, Dr Naeemuz Zafar communicated with Secretary Petroleum Division, Ali Raza Bhutta, that it was not possible to conduct a feasibility study for tablets in the given time and so, they could not be used to read power bills.
PBS is bound to follow stringent deadlines in order to complete data collection by December 2022, when the census is expected. Considering change in practice by introducing the use of tablets will require more time for implementation.
A local media outlet reported that the chief statistician wrote to secretary petroleum saying that, “Although, PBS appreciates the suggestion to collect the reading of barcodes on the gas and electricity bills but keeping in view the challenging timelines of activities of the first ever digital census, it is not feasible to consider it at this stage.”
So, what is this first-ever digital census the chief statistician spoke about and how is it different from the previous census?
Unlike every census held thus far, the 7th census will be conducted through digital forms on tablets that surveyors will carry to each household. This decision was taken as part of the current government’s larger scheme to digitise governmental systems and to ease the arduous process of data collection and analysis. PBS is collaborating with different national organisations such as National Telecommunication Communication (NTC), NADRA, SUPARCO NRTC for the successful provision of services. It is expected that preparation for the census will conclude by March 2022.
A lot rides on the credibility of this census as has been oft repeated by the government. The data from the census will prove crucial in informing future economic and social policies as well as in delivering impactful development projects and reforms. The last census, which was carried out in 2017 during PML-N’s government, has been questioned by many over its credibility and was also accused of underrepresenting the population of Karachi. So, it becomes essential for the present government to make sure that the much awaited 7th census is comprehensive and free of misrepresentation.