Population census faces further delays
The sixth population census of the country is set to see further delays as the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has failed to conduct it as per schedule, although three years have passed since drawing up a master plan.
An official of the BBS said the state-run statistical agency could not hold the census due to the coronavirus pandemic and the switch to a digital survey from the manual one, with the latest reason being the rejection of tender by the cabinet committee on purchase over quizzical ground.
The tender was floated on June 23 to buy 3.95 lakh tabs for the digital census, and the technical evaluation committee of the BBS chose the second-lowest bidder after the lowest bidder was disqualified over specifications.
But, when the matter came to its table for final approval, the cabinet committee on purchase shot it down for some procedural flaws in the tender, not for flaws in the technical evaluation.
Planning Minister MA Mannan told The Daily Star recently: "I am not sure whether it will be possible to conduct the census on time."
"I am scared. Perhaps, I have to go to the prime minister to defer the census for another phase."
The census, which is conducted once a decade, provides complete data on the overall population, its composition, workforce, density, housing and other socio-economic indicators vital for formulating economic and other policies.
The last census was conducted in 2011 when the country's population stood at 15.17 crore, with the population growing at 1.37 per cent per annum.
Currently, the estimated population is 16.8 crore, according to the Bangladesh Economic Review 2021.
The statistical agency prepared the master plan in 2018 to carry out the census on January 2-8 this year. It was supposed to publish a preliminary report on the exercise by July this year.
In October 2019, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved a Tk 1,761 crore project for the population and housing census.
However, the BBS could not hold the census as per the schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. In January 2021, it pushed back the date to October 25-31.
After almost exhausting the additional 10 months, the BBS now says that it is not sure whether it could be able to hold the census on time due to the complication in the preparation.
Earlier, the statistical agency brought some changes to its master plan as it decided to conduct the census digitally instead of manually, saying the move will help cut the project cost by 11 per cent or Tk 186 crore.
Accordingly, the cost was revised downwards to Tk 1,575 crore, which was passed by the Ecnec in June 2021.
As per the revised plan, the BBS will spend two-thirds of the budget on data collection and other ancillary sectors and the rest on devices and software purchases.
The preparation for holding the census was delayed further due to the revision in the plan, according to a BBS official.
"Despite that, we were hoping to carry out the census on time."
But, at the eleventh hour, the cabinet committee on purchase, on August 25, rejected the proposal for buying tabs, citing non-compliance.
Eight companies bought bidding documents, and only two local companies, which manufacture and assemble electronic items, took part in the bidding.
The BBS selected the lowest bidder, which offered to supply a tab for around Tk 10,000, up from Tk 6,000 offered by the lowest bidder.
The purchase committee rejected the proposal, saying that due procedures were not followed in forwarding the proposal and asked the BBS to call for a re-tender.
It also questioned why the proposal was not submitted in two separate envelopes.
Planning Minister Mannan, who was also present at the meeting, said that the committee turned down the proposal for not maintaining two separate envelopes.
Usually, one of the envelopes contains a technical proposal and the other the financial proposal.
The BBS official says two envelopes are maintained for the tender in which the authorities don't know about the specification of the product.
"But, in this case, we know about the specification. So, it is not mandatory to maintain two envelopes. However, as the purchase committee has already instructed to maintain two envelopes, we are following the order," the BBS official said.
The BBS called for a re-tender in the middle of August.
It will take 45 days to re-send the proposal to the cabinet committee after completing the tender procedures. So, the census is set to delayed by another two months, he said.
As per the master plan, the BBS was supposed to train up students, who have at least completed higher secondary or equivalent-level education, on digital equipment from September 1. The authorities are yet to arrange the training programme.
BBS officials say it has prepared a digital map of every part of the country that could be used for various purposes in the future.
In Bangladesh, the first population census was conducted in 1974. Subsequently, the population and housing censuses were held in 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011.