IMPORTANCE OF PUNJAB IN NATIONAL ECONOMY
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Dec 5 - 11, 2011
While working on any developmental plan in Pakistan, it is necessary to first understand the economic landscape of various provinces, prevailing infrastructure, availability of skilled work force and above all the population of the province that ultimately becomes market for agriculture and industrial produce.
The level of agriculture and industrial development also becomes indicators of the level of prosperity. To contain migration of people from one province to another, it is necessary to keep an eye on less developed areas, provide incentives and above all make greater allocation of funds under public sector development program.
The word Punjab is a combination of two Persian words Panj (Five) and ?b (Water) that signifies the land of five rivers including Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej that flow through the province. Presence of strong agriculture has led to creation of robust manufacturing base and services sector. The biggest strength of the province is its population. Its strategic location also makes it the center of economic activities.
The province is surrounded by Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the northeast, the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan in the east, the Pakistani province of Sindh in the south, the province of Balochistan in the southwest, and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west.
Punjab is Pakistan's second largest province having an area of 205,344 square kilometer and is located at the northwestern edge of the geologic Indian plate in South Asia.
It may not be an exaggeration to say that it is the most developed, most populous, and most prosperous province of Pakistan. Lahore has traditionally been the capital of Punjab for a thousand years. Punjab has been the gateway to the Indian subcontinent for invaders who came from Greece, Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan. Due to the strategic location, it remained an important part of various empires and dynasties throughout history, the most notable being Indus Valley Civilization, Aryans, Kushans, Persians, Arabs, Mughals,
AFGHANS, SIKHS, AND THE BRITISH.
Tropical climate and an elaborate irrigation system make the province rich in agriculture. Its canal irrigation system established by the British is the largest in the world. Availability of ample water has made the province a major contributor of food grains, contributing around 75 per cent to annual food grain production in the country. Wheat and cotton are the largest crops. Other crops include rice, sugarcane, oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. The provinces also have a vibrant livestock and poultry sectors. Farmers' income is relatively high because of construction of farms to market roads and electrification paving way for installation of tube wells in the areas where canal network is still age-old.
Rich agriculture, besides ensuring food security for the country, also led to creation of agro-based and food processing industries. Since 1950s, Punjab witnessed rapid industrialization. New factories came up in Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, and Wah. According to the data, around 70,000 industrial units are operating in the province. These include from mega textiles and clothing units to sugar mills and from medium and small units to cottage industries.
Other types of manufacturing include heavy machinery, automobile assembly, cement, plastics, and food processing.
Punjab is the most industrialized province of Pakistan. Its manufacturing units produce textiles and clothing, sports goods, heavy machinery, electrical appliances, surgical instruments, cement, vehicles, auto parts, sugar plants, aircrafts, cement plants, agriculture machinery, bicycles and rickshaws and processed foods.
Availability of basic raw materials and huge market has led to establishing all sorts of industrial units, some focusing on exports and others meeting indigenous requirements. There are around 40,000 small and cottage industrial units. The numbers of units involved in textiles and clothing touch 15,000.
Nearly 7,000 ginning units are operating in the province because of bulk of cotton cultivation done in the province. Lahore, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala have the largest concentration of small light engineering units. Sialkot excels in the production of sports goods, surgical instruments, and cutlery.
Since 1990s, Punjab is hosting several key sites of Pakistan's nuclear program such as Kahuta. It also hosts major military bases at Sargodha and Rawalpindi.
The incidence of poverty varies in different regions of Punjab, with Northern and Central Punjab facing much lower levels of poverty than Western and Southern Punjab. Those living in Southern and Western Punjab are also a lot more dependent on agriculture due to lower levels of industrialization in those regions.
Punjab is also a mineral rich province with extensive mineral deposits of coal, gas, petrol, rock salt (with the second largest salt mine in the world), dolomite, gypsum, and silica-sand but real potential has not been achieved as yet.
One of the factors contributing to rapid growth of the province is higher literacy level and presence of vocational training centers. Agriculture has flourished due to the work of research institutes but average yield of major crops remains below global average. Factors contributing to dismal production are inadequate supply of water, rising cost of inputs and above all fragmentation of landholding. Small land holding does not allow mechanize farming.
Lately, the province has been suffering a lot due to acute shortage of electricity and gas, which has crippled economy of the province, massive retrenchment in manufacturing units and above all creating sense of deprivation among the people. Division of the province is also being demanded.
The real issues facing the provincial government include growing militancy and deteriorating law and order situation. In the recent past, many precious lives were lost during energy related riots. The spells of electricity and gas outages are likely to be more severe this year.