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EDITORIAL: Minister for Planning Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal while briefing the media emphasised the need to delink the horizontal distribution of divisible pool resources (within provinces) from population growth (currently 80 percent of such distribution is based on population) under the applicable National Finance Commission (NFC) award.

The current framework is disturbingly tantamount to not only incentivising higher population growth - a source of serious concern as it is straining the country’s already inadequate social and physical infrastructure, prompting Iqbal to declare that “no enemy needs to pull us down, this population growth alone will do” – and accounts for significant census manipulation in favour of one party over another as it is used not only for the delimitation exercise of constituencies but also determines the quota of government employment and other associated monetary incentives.

At present, the province-wide distribution from the divisible pool is as follows: Punjab 51.74 percent, Sindh 24.55 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 14.62 percent and Balochistan 9.09 percent. In this context, for Ahsan Iqbal, a PML-N leader with a power centred in Punjab, to propose a change must be appreciated as Punjab would be the largest loser if the share of population in the divisible pool is reduced.

In this context, it is relevant to note that in 2010 when the tenth NFC award was under discussion the then Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif reportedly agreed to a reduction in the share of population in the Award in return for the then President Asif Ali Zardari agreeing to remove the bar to a third term for a prime minister, to facilitate Nawaz Sharif to become prime minister for a third term under the then ongoing 18th Constitutional Amendment.

It is important to note that Iqbal’s statement was politically timely as he heads the monitoring committee on the just concluded seventh census with its results rendered controversial, prompting the aggrieved parties to seek another (the sixth) extension to the census.

The Chief of Census, also present during the press briefing, stated that population growth under the census was 2.7 percent against 2.4 percent in the previous census which has “very serious ramifications and Pakistan will become a joke.”

It is unfortunate that reaching a consensus on any matter relating to the economy has and continues to be fraught with political overtones in this country. The vertical distribution agreed in the last NFC award has been much criticised even by those who were actively engaged in the 10th NFC award on the grounds that the federal government’s share in the divisible pool declined, thereby leaving insufficient funds to meet the federal annual expenditure.

No mention is ever made of the sustained failure of all post-2010 successive administrations to de facto devolve subjects agreed to be devolved under the 2010 18th Constitutional Amendment by doing away with ministries on devolved subjects in the federal governments and to this day large budgetary allocations are made each year to fund development expenditure for those sectors like education and health that are no longer part of the federal legislative list.

In addition to the share of provinces that is primarily determined by population size, there are two other population dependent areas, which are no less important, so to speak.

The number of seats in the National Assembly from each province and the job quotas in the federal government are also determined by the size of population of each province. It is therefore evident that there is a strong incentive to maximise the population to receive greater benefits despite the fact that this unhindered growth in population is a heavy drag on the national economy. In other words, for the economy, the portents are extremely gloomy, to say the least.

While an agreement on a charter of economy may be considered by some as a move aimed at militating against the very precepts of a democracy, given that different political parties’ manifestoes identify different sets of priority objectives based on diverse frameworks designed to achieve growth and development, yet there is an urgent need to engage across the political divide on certain matters that relate to the well-being of the general public.

That unchecked population growth strains resources is a fact. One of the short-term implications of it will be an increased demand for food. Can we feed the entire country and ensure no one goes hungry?

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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Tulukan Mairandi May 24, 2023 09:59am
More population = more people to fight India and Iran and Taliban. What we cannot do with quality, we compensate with quantity.
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KU May 24, 2023 12:24pm
The world average of food consumed per day by a human is 4.40 kg. If we round it off to 4 kg per day for an average Pakistani, it comes to 1460 kg per person per year, and this does not include food based on nutrition requirements. Yearly consumption of food for 250 million strong gives us a mind-boggling figure of 365,000,000,000 kgs required for the population. While the Global Hunger Index puts Pakistan in 99th rank out of 121 countries, with a score of 26.1 level of hunger, it is serious. And employment means of earning for the people are not even under consideration, what is the government going to do about this chaos? Certainly, nothing because it's busy consolidating its infamous democracy.
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Kashif ALI May 24, 2023 12:48pm
I wish I could share the graph of population growth of areas of Modern Pakista (West only) from 1800s to 2020. From 1800 to 1947, population of this area grew from 13 million to about 30 million. Over 147 years, the graph has a very small slope. From 1947 to 2020, it changes its trajectory drastically and becomes Exponential graph (just like shooting to very high values in a very short time period). That is, from 1947 to 2020 (73 years), population grew from 30 million to 250 million. That is a whopping, mind-boggling exponential growth. After independence, the only thing in which we have unfortunately excelled, is baby booming. Our home (read: West Pakistan) size is same but people living inside it has grown 8+ times in only 7 decades. No doubt, our human capital index is at minimal low. No skilled population. And such scenarios lead to extremely degenerated class of human beings who have no civic sense at all.
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Abdullah May 24, 2023 05:15pm
@Tulukan Mairandi, I think so than we should start a fight so equally we can reduce the population of india iran and afghnaistan as we are way tooo much in Pkaistan.250 million and that in pakistan is very crowded.
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Rapid Fire May 24, 2023 07:20pm
Doesn't Allah provide, regardless of the number of children?
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Awami May 25, 2023 06:40am
30 Million to 250 Million in 73 year = Rise of population at rate of 2.926% per year. At this rate population on year 2047 will 547 Million. ( if same rate continue) All the People of nation should become serious and family planning should be practiced to avoid extreme poverty. Delayed attention will be catastrophic.
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