The desert about to bloom
By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Sep 20 - 26, 2004
Whenever it rains over the sandy dunes of the ancient Thar it brings life to the barren lands of vast stretches of the desert. It bring glow to the pale faces and glitter to the eyes of the people. Yet it happens once in a while. The fascinating look of the landscape and the happiness of the people as well vanish with the evaporation of the moisture, which gives a lush green look to the desert. The desert is however about to bloom on sustainable grounds as the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz taking his personal interest for sustainable growth of the neglected area in order to pay his thanks to the people of Thar who welcomed him during the recent by-elections in which the Prime Minister turned successful with a thumping majority.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has vowed to give a new look to the map of Thar by taking concrete steps for economic, social and political growth of the area. The construction of small dams for water storage and development of a grid station to supply electricity are the two major announcements as a part of the forthcoming comprehensive development package for sustainable development of Tharparkar, which currently is being prepared to redress the sufferings of its people.
A team of Planning Commission, which had visited Tharparkar to identify development projects for the arid region, was finalizing the package and it is also about to come. Some of the salient features of the Thar package were, however, declared by the Prime Minister when he recently visited the area.
These concrete steps announced by the Prime Minister include the construction of small dams for storage of rainwater, development of tube wells installed and a pipeline to supply potable water to the area. On his advice the Federal and the provincial government of Sindh both will spend rupees one billion each every year for the uplift of Thar in addition to other allocations.
The interest being taken at the highest level and also triggered other factors in the down stream as a number of companies in the private sector have also announced to participate effectively in the development of Thar.
In this respect, Nestle, a company dealing with mineral water had announced to establish a water plant, which was expected to provide 10,000 gallons of water to at least 20,000 people of the area. Yet another company has also expressed willingness to developed 150 water pumps in the area.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has also announced that in view of persisting drought like conditions in Thar, wheat would be supplied at 50 percent subsidized rates for the people of Thar. He pledged to do away with the sense of deprivation among the people at grass root level by taking concrete remedial steps for sustainable growth in all terms in the neglected areas of the country.
Lack of communication facilities is generally the major irritant in the growth of the under developed areas, with out transportation facilities no area can be developed at the desired level. The Thar package includes construction of a network of roads, which would link Thar with rest of the country in all directions. The Prime Minister was of the view that an effective follow up on the implementation of Thar package would change the entire look of the area which would become a major contributor to the economy of Pakistan besides raising the living standards of the under privileged people of Thar.
The Prime Minister while thanking to the people of Thar for their overwhelming support in the recent by-elections has said that the people of Thar have won his heart and has established a lifetime and unbreakable relationship with the people of Thar.
Snakebite is a common threat to the life for the people of Thar. The nature has already given a remedy to combat the threat in the form of a large population of the peacocks who are the archrivals of the snakes. The peacocks love to fight and have a good meal after killing the snakes. However, the cases of snakes bites is a common phenomenon in Thar in order to address the problem, Prime Minister has issued standing instruction to provide 600 anti-dotes vials every month on regular basis to the hospitals and dispensaries in the area.
He also announced upgradation of the district hospital besides increasing the number of health units in the area. The establishment of Khushali Bank is yet another steps to provide financial services in the area. The Prime Minister also announced to personally supervise the Thar coal projects. The coal power plants would be a great source for development of the area in which local people would be given priority for employment. Electrification of every village in Thar was another major step in the economic package.
Thar has a privilege to have one of the largest coal reservoirs in the world, besides huge deposits of granite, China Clay and other minerals. If these resources were economically optimized this area would become a major contributor to the revival of the national economy. Unfortunately, no government in the past had ever come out with any serious efforts neither on humanitarian grounds nor to exploit the available economic potentials of the area. A few NGOs had, however, carried out some welfare work in the area but that was too small to make any visible change in the area. It is for the first time that the Prime Minister of this country was taking his personal interest to bring a change to the lot of the hinterland. If this neglected area becomes economically strong, it could be a model for the development of other remote parts of the country.
The Thar package will include short, medium and long-term programs. Projects having the potential to make maximum impact on the life of common men will be given priority in the plan. The main priority areas will be provision of water, electricity, construction of network of roads, education and health facilities to the people of Thar. The plan will also focus to develop livestock, agriculture sector and mining sector. The financial institutions like Khushali Bank, Zarai Taraqiati Bank have been asked to give priority to the development of Thar.
China is taking keen interest in Thar coal power plants, the provincial government has also issued instructions to the concerned departments to remove all bottlenecks in the project and start work on the project as soon as possible.
According to Chief Secretary of Sindh, the proposed development projects include water supply schemes, establishment of research centers for agricultural development, installation of agriculture pumps and tube wells, provision of health and education facilities, provision of financial assistance to the minorities, construction of small dams and road network, digging of dug wells in pumping machineries, provision of mobile phones and wireless telephone system and PCO, provision of Sui gas facilities to the towns and villages, village electrification plans, Sport Complex at Mithi etc.
Providing potable water to Thar was the most important issue, in this respect Prime Minister has already ordered that the water pipeline project being undertaken for Thar should be completed by December 2004. The Prime Minister himself will inaugurate the water pipeline. The decision to retain the seat from Attock instead of the Thar was taken at the party level; however, Shaukat Aziz has pledged to the people that he will always consider it as my constituency. He also vowed to fulfill all his promises to the people of Thar.
Despite the fact that Prime Minister of the country was taking keen interest in the development of Thar, the role of the provincial government becomes highly important in facilitating any project to embark upon. Realizing the situation, the Prime Minister has made it clear that his government's priorities are to provide good governance, ensure stability in prices of essential commodities and provide justice to everyone. As far as the government of Sindh was concerned, he advised that the provincial government should work like a team to achieve the targets set for the betterment of the people. He asserted that there should be a paradigm shift in work culture.
The government has to be result-oriented rather than activity-oriented, the Prime Minister remarked and added that this would help in accomplishing the task of good governance. The political government has to work in coordination with civil servants, with focus on socio-economic development of the country. It has to identify issues, prioritize them and make concerted efforts to resolve them, and not to delay or be proactive in resolving them.
The Prime Minister has exhorted the provincial cabinet members to ensure enforcement of the writ of government in the province to create an environment congenial for investments. The provincial governments should be involved in the process of chalking out five-year plans besides the planning commission and national economic council. The provincial governments, too should chalk out such plans determine priorities. The situation calls for concerted efforts for overcoming the constraints in the way of target. A team spirit is the soul of making things bright. As far as the development of the remote areas was concerned, in fact it was the responsibility of the provincial governments to pin points and resolve the hardships faced by the people living in the hinterlands of the country in the respective provinces.
Unfortunately, the provincial governments in the past did not bother to take concrete steps for sustainable growth of the neglected areas like Thar. They use the sufferings of the people of these areas for political gains and for political slogans to attract the people. In fact, under developed areas like Thar are the glaring example of inequitable distribution of national resources and the fake claims by the previous governments as well as the politicians that their party stands for the poor.
NOW OR NEVER
As far as the development of Thar was concerned, it is a now and never like situation especially in the backdrop of the current political situation when both the Prime Minister as well as the Provincial Chief Minister were a representative of District Tharparkar. In a situation, when top brass of the governmental set hails from a district, one has every reason to believe about the result-oriented development of Thar. Dr. Arbab Rahim, the Chief Minister of Sindh hails from Thar while the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had also won his by-elections for his MNA seat from Thar. It is the situation, which was never before in the history of Pakistan especially for the people of Thar. Hence they are justified in attaching high hopes for practical steps for the development of their area instead of mere slogans raised by the so-called staunch supporters of the poor in the past.
Currently, initial work is being carried out for the development of two coal based power projects with an installed capacity of 300mw each. These power projects in fact can play a pivotal role to change the entire scenario in Thar, as it is the electricity, which has assumed the central role for development in any society. A glimpse of such development can be seen in Hub area of Balochistan near Karachi where the Hub Power Company has facilitated the people of the area with free power supply around the HUBCO power plant. This facility has done a magic in changing the face of the brown land into a lush green farms producing different types of fruits especially banana, papaya, coconut and cheeco farms all around the power generating company. The native people for suction of underground water productively use the electricity through tube wells.
The people of Thar can take this successful experiment as a lead whenever the coal based power plant start generating the much-needed power in that area. These power plants besides contributing their role in augmentation of the power needs of the rest of the province can be a great source of economic development of Thar, which, is also a dream of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as well.
Actually, proposed development of Thar and rapid growth of infrastructure at Gwadar is another neglected area having enormous economic potentials can be described as a landmark of the present government. Governments come and go, but leave their good or bad memories in the form of far reaching consequences of the good or bad decisions. The development of Thar would of course be a landmark which certainly change the course of history of the vast sand stretches of Thar spread not only in Sindh but in Rajhistan and Gujrat of India and Saraiki belt of Punjab in Pakistan.