By Sher Ali Khalti
Apparently Punjab government has allocated sizeable funds for the Southern Punjab in 2015-16 budget but many raise questions on their actual utilisation at the end of the day
It is a perception that thickly populated South Punjab has always been ignored in Punjab budgets. Is this a realty or propaganda or just political point scoring which needs to be determined? According to PML-N, this year Punjab government has allocated a huge share of its annual budget to South Punjab. But on the other hand, people are not convinced and are raising slogans of new province. They have announced that they will no more be fooled by such fake promises and claims.
Pique closely observed the Punjab Budget 2015-16 to reach a conclusion and determine the reasons behind the mistrust that exists between the provincial government and the people of South Punjab.
To date, 68 budgets have presented in Punjab province from 1948 to 2015 and 46 of these were presented by democratic governments. Most of these budgets were presented by different Muslim Leagues. Nineteen budgets were announced by the PML-N while others were presented by other factions/names of Muslim Leagues. The basic features of all the budgets almost remained the same. Only the urban and developed areas were given preference in budgets and the underdeveloped were ignored.
The recently announced budget of 2015-16 was not an unusual one rather a continuity of old pattern. Nonetheless a pleasant change could be observed in the budget as it was presented in a sweet voice of a female who had a background of economics. That was why the opposition could not show the reaction which was expected. No noise or uproar was observed as had happened in the past during budget presentations. The volume of this budget was around Rs 1.447 trillion.
Pasha was too optimistic while making her speech. She foresaw a Punjab: “Where everyone would have an easy access to justice. Health facilities will be provided to everyone. Education would be provided to its citizens. Unemployment will be eliminated. Youth will be equipped with necessary skills. Industry will flourish and labourers will earn livelihood. Greenery will be everywhere. Peace would be seen everywhere.’’
It seemed she was quite conscious about the allegations of bias leveled against PML-N by the people of South Punjab or Seraiki Wasiab. Historically, they have alleged that PML-N’s policy has been prejudiced against South Punjab because the policy makers (mostly the bureaucrats) belong to the Upper Punjab .They don’t know the hardships of the people of South Punjab what they face. So the budget makers have their own priorities.
Pasha tried to counter this perception by claiming that “If Punjab Government made Metro bus service in Lahore, we did not ignore Multan as well. In the coming fiscal year, we have earmarked Rs 26 billion for Metro bus in Multan, Rs 30 billion will be provided to 11 districts of South Punjab for “Clean Water Program”, Rs 150 billion will be spared for Quai-e-Azam Solar Park in Cholistan for the production of Solar energy and Rs 67 billion specified for road networks.’’
Abdul Majeed Kanjoo, President Seraiki National Party challenges the claims made by the Punjab finance minister. He says the budget making and announcement exercises are nothing more than a magic show. “Here a magician was using words and figures to impress people and play with their emotions. Dr. Ayesha was not different than a school girl who was reading a lesson in front of her teacher. She did not know even the spirit of the budget as she was appointed as finance minster a week before presenting it.”
Actually, Kanjoo says, it was drafted by munshis of Chief Minister Punjab (the bureaucrats). It was not people-friendly at all. He says 20,000 acres of land from Cholistan have been grabbed by Government of Punjab in the name of Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park. The government forced the people to leave their huts in Cholistan. He doubts that the electricity produced here will not be given to Seraikis as has happened in the case of Sui in Balochistan where locals are not provided piped natural gas in their homes. He demands that if the government is sincere in serving Seraiki Wassib, it must announce 80 per cent non-technical and sufficient technical jobs for locals in this project. “Royalty should be provided to them on a regular basis to make them partners in the journey to progress.”
Pasha also claimed that the Punjab government had prioritized education and health for Seraikis and announced setting up of Khawaja Fareed Engineering and Information University in Rahim Yar Khan at a cost of 9.38 billion. In Multan, Mian Nawaz Sharif University will be built whereas as a medical college will be established in Bahwalnagar and Tayyab Erdogan hospital will be up-dated and extended to 500 beds for patients in Muzafargarh. An amount of Rs 14 billion will be provided to eliminate poverty in South Punjab under the ‘’South Punjab Poverty Alleviation Programme”, Rs 11.03 million will be given to South Punjab under the “Chief Minster Programme for Development.’’
Floods also spread havoc in south Punjab every year. According to her speech “Rs 10 billion will be spent to rescue Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajan Pur from hill torrents, Rs 3 billion will be given for the development of tribal areas in South Punjab and a 90-kilometer dual carriage way will be constructed from Bahawalpur to Hasil Pur.
Sardar Mir Dost Muhammad Mazari ex-state minister Water and Power, now leader of PTI from South Punjab laments that just like the past this speech is just full of shallow slogans and words. Our situation would have been changed if Punjab government had spent the money from announced budgets. Sharif brothers just beat about the bush on media.
He says the government claimed that it had allocated 33 percent of the development budget for South Punjab in the previous budget but unfortunately just 5 percent of it was spent here and the rest diverted to upper Punjab.
He says metro bus service is not solution of our people. Hunger is our major problem. Can a hungry eat metro? If answer is no. Than PML-N is unable to understand the miseries of Southern Punjab. My people need clean drinking water and health facilities. But it was not priority of Punjab government. Southern Punjab mostly dependent on agriculture and due to unavailability of water. Land is going to be barren. Government ignored the agriculture sector in this budget because the budget makers don’t know the problems of farmers and the people whose livelihood depend upon the agriculture. Agriculture universities should be made in almost districts of Southern Punjab.
According to him someone would be surprised “Nishter Ghat Bridge Rahim Yar Khan is still to be completed as it was inaugurated by Sardar Abdul Rab Nishter in 1956. Nothing is granted for the completion of the bridge.’’
“When I was minster I had special request to former Prime Minister Syed Yusif Raza Gillani for the completion of this bridge. He granted Rs 1.30 billion for Nishter Ghat bridge. Little part of this bridge is to be completed. Why Punjab government and Federal government don’t pay heed to this bridge If flyover and under bridges are prepared in Lahore within no time why it is not in south Punjab. Now dual standard must be ended. Otherwise be ready for consequences.”
He says how one chief executive can handle a province of 8 crore population. He cannot concentrate on the whole Punjab that is why South Punjab is ignored. Prosperity of south Punjab is conditioned with its bifurcation. Because Shahbaz just sees Lahore, he is unable to see the problems of southern Punjab. The budget was presented by Dr. Ayesha favours capitalist and industrialist, he concludes.
Dr Javed Siddique Pakistan former People’s Party MPA says in his press conference in Multan Press Club ‘hypocrisy of PML-N reveals thus Rs 205 billion development funds had been allocated for Lahore and Rs 127 billion for south Punjab. He said that population of south Punjab is more than upper Punjab.”
He believed that the Punjab government had announced a road project worth Rs 9.5 billion six years ago but not a single penny could be released for it. He said that the PML-N government had announced funds for the Multan Women University, Multan Cancer Hospital and other projects but not a single project could be completed in the last eight years. He claimed that the Punjab Assembly had passed a resolution for giving the status of medical university to the Multan Nishtar Hospital but the government was avoided implementing it. He said that the Italian government had released Rs 1 billion for the uplift of walled city but the funds could not be utilized.
A famous economist Qais Aslam says, “we cannot suspect that budget is only a lip service rather there is a mechanism which needs to be understood. There are three parts of budget. First part is related with current expenditure from where budget flows in ministries and second one is concurrent budget. Service providers fall in this part. The problem is with them they don’t play their given role. Third part is related with development expenditure. Problem becomes worsen from here. As budget spent after 9 month of its allocation. Than budget is spent haphazardly according to the wish of Baboos (Bureacrates) and they don’t understand the problem of people. It is a dire need that budget should be made and spent by the suggestion of elected representatives who know where to spend.”
He further explains transparency is very necessary for the development of any nation. It is a tragedy that transparency becomes less in the presence of more officers. “And these officers are great hurdle in way where to spend budget. They see their preferences rather masses. It is responsibilities of government to control all the things and spend the allocated budget.”
The writer is a Lahore based journalist. He works for The News on Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org