Four years – grey, black and white
The Punjab government has a number of achievements to its credit but there is little that is long term
By Adnan Adil
The Punjab government is a one-man show run by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif whose focus is on visible development projects and much-publicised dole-outs. Sharif is a hyperactive chief executive breathing down the necks of civil servants, touring around the province for inaugural ceremonies of his projects and visiting abroad – (hina and Turkey in particular) for partnerships and collaboration.
During the last four years, the Punjab government has taken some major development initiatives in whole range of areas of public concern public transport, public housing, health, education etc. One may disagree with the chief minister’s approach, but he is not wanting i action.
The policy is to launch signature projects, launch such schemes that give something concrete in the hands of citizens and market these. The Punjab government started Danish Schools, Ashiana Housing, distribution of laptops etc the way Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had built Islamabad-Lahore Motorway instead of improving the existing GT Road. Improvement of existing facilities does not bring as much recognition, publicity and popularity as earned by the new projects. The new programmes are identified with the initiator’s name and thus deliver political dividends.
The chief minister has accumulated most of the powers in his hands, allowing little space to his cabinet members and senior civil servants. His style of administration is criticised for being arbitrary and authoritarian. This is evident from the fact that he held 15 provincial departments till recently. Only when the media raised the issue, did he hand over 8 ministries to other cabinet ministers. He is still holding seven additional portfolios.
Shahbaz Sharif has a penchant for rushing things through, bending or bypassing the relevant rules and regulations. His supporters say he snaps bureaucracy’s delaying tactics for the benefit of the public to get things on time. Civil servants grumble terms of several huge contracts were amended halfway in violation of rules. There are many objections on the way the forensic laboratory was set up in Lahore or the contract for making the examination boards online was awarded. However, no concrete evidence of corruption was ever produced by his detractors. Shahbaz Sharif repeatedly claims he would quit if corruption of a single penny was proved in works carried out in Punjab during the last four years.
One thing is obvious the Shahbaz administration failed to reduce Punjab’s crime rate though the police have been able to check the sectarian violence and organised crime. Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah while opening debate over public safety in the provincial assembly admitted the registration of heinous crimes showed an increase in 2011. As many as 6,208 cases of murder, 204 cases of kidnapping and 22,452 cases of armed robbery (dacoity) took place in 2011 as compared to the previous year’s 5,768, 167 and 18,000 respectively. The law minister, however, tried to hide the government’s weakness behind the excuse that unemployment was the main reason behind the rising crimes. The culture of devoting a bulk of police’s resources to VIPs remained in vogue as usual though Shahbaz Sharif keeps blurting out sermons on the plight of the poor and singing revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s poems.
On a positive note, Shahbaz Sharif has been quite dynamic and produced results in case of emergency situations. In the devastating 2010 flooding, he worked frantically in the flood-affected areas to supervise relief and rehabilitation works for the victims. Had he not been so active, the situation of the flood victims would have been lot worse. Later, the provincial government spent Rs 25 billion on the rehabilitation of the flood affected people and Rs 15 billion to build 22 model villages in the devastated areas. In addition, 90 villages were rebuilt with the cooperation of NGOs, philanthropists besides assistance from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This stands in contrast to the dismal situation of flood-affected people in Sindh.
Shahbaz Sharif also rose to the occasion when dengue epidemic started spiralling out of hands in 2011. The health officers were kept on toes to treat dengue patients and arrangements were made to provide inexpensive healthcare through private hospitals as well. Critics say Sharif’s firefighting way of dealing with situations is also responsible for dengue outbreak because necessary precautionary measures were not taken before the disease took its toll. It is alleged Sharif does not allow systems to work and develop, and has made the administration revolve around his whims.
The Shahbaz government has launched several schemes targeting young people, especially following Imran Khan’s display of increasing popularity among the youth in 2011. A Skill Development Fund has been set up to dish out interest-free loans worth Rs 1 billion among skilled persons. The Punjab Educational Endowment Fund has benefited 30,000 students across the province who received stipends on the basis of their scores in examinations. The Yellow Cab Scheme is also meant to win over young people. The provincial government has also allocated Rs 4.5 billion in the FY2011-12 to provide 20,000 taxis on low interest rates. The distribution of 125,000 laptops worth Rs 4 billion is yet another such programme. The chief minister plans to dole out 300,000 laptops in the next fiscal budget just ahead of the general elections.
In recent times, for the first time public transport in big cities of the Punjab has drawn so much attention from a government. Hundreds of buses on CNG have been imported for public transport in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala and Bahawalpur. In addition to building a number of flyovers and widening of roads in Lahore, the provincial government has also planned a 32-km long track of metro bus service from Shahdara to Kahna on the Ferozepur Road – a major artery through which thousands of labourers commute from suburbs to downtown daily.
Some concrete steps have been taken to improve public healthcare in the province. The work is also in progress on 410-bed hospital in Bahawalpur and an Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi while facilities have been added to government-run headquarter hospitals in tehsils and districts. Four new medical colleges have been established in Gujranwala, Sialkot, Dera Ghazi Khan and Sahiwal. The upgrading of District Headquarters Hospital Sargodha is underway while a new 300-bed hospital in Shahdara is near completion. The work is about to start on an Institute of Urology and Transplantation in Rawalpindi. An Institute for Organ Transplant has been planned in Lahore.
In education and public housing sectors, the Punjab government has focussed on some visible projects such as distribution of laptops, students’ scholarships and a few hundred houses (Ashiana Housing) allotted to the low-income people instead of taking up long-term, large-scale projects. Some much-publicised measures are still on papers like proposed distribution of 400,000 residential plots among the low-income people. Compare this to an estimated shortage of at least four million housing units in the province. One good step was taken in February 2012 when the provincial cabinet approved amendments to the Punjab Katchi Abadis Act 1992 in order to grant ownership rights to the dwellers of slums (katchi abadis).
The Punjab government has also taken some baby steps in the education field. It has equipped 4,000 government schools with computer-laboratories at a cost of Rs 5 billion, in contrast to Rs 45 billion it spent on building new roads. Punjab Education Minister Mujtaba Shuja-ur-Rehman said during a provincial assembly session more than 18,000 government-run schools in the province lack basic facilities including science laboratories. Many experts believe the government would have made better use of the public money by providing sufficient facilities to the existing schools instead of spending billions of rupees on new Danish Schools. In Lahore, the government has hardly set up a new school but spent most of its resources on widening roads and building flyovers.
However, lately, Sharif has started to take some concrete measures in this area. The special representative of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) on education for Pakistan, Sir Andrew Mitchell, was quoted as saying Punjab’s education sector has witnessed marked improvement during the last one year. According to the British officer, the number of students has increased by 4 million in one year (2011) owing to the government’s measures. The provincial government has announced to launch a drive for 100 percent enrollment in schools with the assistance of DFID. If it really happens on ground, it won’t be a mean achievement.
TNS fittingly nicknamed PIA as “Problems in Air”, last year. I chanced to travel by PIA recently and indeed, it is neither short of passengers nor problems. I have not travelled far and wide but so far only PIA planes shake and wiggle like an old Suzuki on the bumpy GT road to Mandi Bahauddin. A few days ago, there was this funny news about some passengers travelling in the PIA toilets, with the consent of the on-flight staff. I will explain later why the toilet isn’t a bad idea.
When I was around nine, I travelled by air, alone for the first time. Just when the summer vacations were starting, I foresaw the drudgery which often followed holidays in those years, so I called my father in advance and he booked a ticket.
But a journey meant for few hours took about two days. The plane landed in Karachi because Quetta’s weather was cloudy. And I got to meet all my Karachi relatives for free, a newly married and a recently engaged uncle. The next day when we boarded the plane, we were all locked up but did not fly for another six hours. The passengers started fighting with each other and the staff, and when I went to the back to fetch some more Fanta, I saw that the air-hostesses were also quarrellng with each other. But this was just before the plane started to taxi. And at that point everyone had to sit down again to prevent accidents. Things normalised when they served food.
Imagine a truckload of Pakistani men, all huddled together like lambs, with no books to read, music to listen to or anything to do except look at each other at the slightest hint of a movement. This time I was travelling with my old mom, who had trouble getting up from her seat. The flight attendant was as helpless and bewildered as I was. And it was like a live circus where everyone was eagerly watching us. When the plane became stable, all the guys got up to loiter around as if it was Fortress Stadium and not a plane. Despite the repeated requests from staff, the passages couldn’t be cleared. This happened again when the plane landed but hadn’t yet come to a halt.
One problem unique to PIA is the children. Most foreign flights have a few children and they are apparently more tamed than ours. Once, when I was flying to Hong Kong for the first time, there was a lady with a toddler and some slightly grown up children. Much of the plane was empty that day. So the kids ventured into the toilets, opened all the taps, dipped their feet in water and ran in the aisles like crazy.
On another occasion, when the plane was landing, a weepy kid refused to wear the seat belt. Instead, he started rolling on the floor while two air-hostesses attempted to coax him into returning to his seat while the plane started descent. But the best one was this one little boy who was sitting right next to me. After a while, he said “aunty ki godi mein baithna hai”(want to sit in aunty’s lap). Probably because I was sitting by the window and after this nothing could propel him to get off “aunty’s” (a title that hit my heart like a tsunami) lap and eventually I had to change my seat.
So much has been said about PIA’s sagging profile. The other day, a friend commented that the state-owned Air India is also in pits. Perhaps, it is time to wind-up the picnic and privatise PIA, before a big accident strikes.
Now, staying in the toilet is not a bad idea if it is newly cleaned and still unused. The toilet is similar to what an ordinary economy-class seat is like in a PIA plane, without the seat belts of course. You won’t feel like a circus animal up for a display, the air hostesses don’t disturb you with the duty-free products and above all, no kids to break your heart with chants of “Aunty! Aunty!”
*Exhibition of Paintings by Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi at Ejaz Art Gallery, 79/B-1 M.M. Alam Road, till April 10.
*Thaap Talk Series: 8th Talk by Dr. Kanwal Khalid, keeper paintings at Lahore Museum on gems and jewels of India on Friday, April 6 at 6:00pm.
*Open Mic at Institute for Peace peace and Secular Studies (IPPS) on Wednesday at 6:00 pm. People not just share intellectual works like essays, papers, articles, poetry but also other talents like songs, music compositions, monologues etc.
*Youth Poetry Contest: Institute of Peace and Secular Studies is holding youth poetry contest. The last date for submission of poem is April 7. The poem can be in Urdu, English, Punjabi, Seraiki or any other language spoken in the Punjab.
*Competition: Under the
initiative ‘Pakistan India Relaxed Visa Regime’, the Institute for Peace
and Secular Studies (IPSS) has organised a short documentary competition. The
theme for documentary is: “Paving the way for a relaxed Pakistan-India Visa
If Shoaib Malik’s wedding can get a major chunk of air-time why not debates, question the students of LACAS who have recently won the Harvard Model United Nations Championship held in China.
The young batch of 4 A-Level students belonging to LACAS Gulberg campus; Hashim Bajwa, Umar Ali, Nawal Tauqeer and Seemal Masood are oozing with confidence and it’s an absolute treat to listen to their lively and interactive talk as they put forward their ideas and come up with quick solutions that force one to conclude that at least all is not lost and the future of Pakistan is safe.
The young and energetic brains with affable competitive spirit displayed their brilliant oration and diplomatic skills at the competition held in Beijing where 26 countries participated. The format of the competition revolved around the committees; it’s a mock United Nations setting and a replica worked on the UN Model but with students becoming a part of it. Each school is given a country to represent and LCAS was given ‘Sierra Lone’ as a country to stand for. One best delegate, two outstanding delegates and honorable mentions were achieved during gruelling sessions that were held under various topics like disarmament and International Security, Special Political and De-colonisation Committee and UN’s special summit on Peace-keeping.
The topic is given out to the students before the proceedings begin and everything within the conference has to be voted upon just the way it is in the UN. “We have to do research on that specific agenda and which ever topic gets the majority vote only that issue is debated upon,” explains Umar Ali. The problems and solutions are charted out with a final resolution draft which gets to be voted by the members. The multiple sessions and discussions are held in the conference and the students are required to follow the procedures of the original UN.
Though MUN (Model United Nations) was a foreign concept and has got nothing to do with the conventional debating yet it is finding good coverage and feed back from the students of various institutions of Pakistan. Formed by LUMS as LUMUN in 2008 the idea is kicking off and this year LACAS also plans to hold their first conference. The format features social events including late sessions, galas, delegate dances and the conference itself which is more like a global village where delegates from various institutes participate.
Hashim Bajwa has become a regular participant of MUN because of the ambience and the euphoric feeling of representing a country as a delegate as if one is doing something constructive. Since Umer Ali has been debating for a long time and has won the Geneva and Warsaw MUN Competitions so it was natural for him to be a part of this group. “For me it is the diplomatic skills that make MUN different from the normal style of debating apart from the fact that it also involves the process of writing documents for the UN,” he discloses. “The skills of lobbying, showing diplomacy and collecting votes gives participants the idea of ‘real’ politics of the macro-scale world,” Umer adds.
Seemal initially started off as a Parliamentary debater; soon switched gears and adopted MUN for it gives one the platform to think broader. ‘The expression of opinion and how each policy would affect your country got me hooked to MUN which is more of a formal style of debating,’ she states. Nawal; a shy girl could never imagine herself joining MUN for it’s difficult to convince people to side with her during the conferences. “However, what I found interesting was researching about the country that you are taking a stance on,” she observed.
Umer laments how can a country perform well in diplomacy if the first, second and third secretaries of Foreign Office are ‘political dummies’ and have never studied diplomacy as a subject. China and India have the worst Human Rights violations yet they are not criticised by the global community. It is only because they have trained diplomats representing them who are able to maintain the image of their respective countries.
“We as a nation are afraid of the truth and are not ready to talk about issues like abortion, prostitution and how the high and mighty escape from the shackles of law after throwing acid on wife,” says Hashim. “One needs to get rid of the taboos in society by opening the mind and start perceiving things differently,” joins Nawal in the same tone. These students desperately want the country men to get their facts and figures right and then have the guts to tell the truth. They want to talk about cultural, environmental, socio-political issues as well as the taboo topics like the leftist movement and the Communist party of the country. “The need is to put focus on who is doing what,” observe all four.
“You develop your country’s image through these bright students and they need to be highlighted and recognised just the way the cricketers are,” all four say in unification. “If cricket can have hours of air-time then can’t the news channels cover at least the Under 17 or Under-19 National Debating Championship finals?”
Very few people know that Pakistan has always reached the semis of the World Debating Championship and that Debating Society of Pakistan is not funded by the Pakistan Government. The sad aspect is that the culture of giving sponsorships is not developed and these students who do not belong to the elite class had to face real issues in convincing their parents to collect the funds that were needed to travel to the various countries for participation. “If the government can give away thousands of laptops to public school students then at least it can acknowledge the debaters of private schools because not all of them are from the affluent class,” Nawal rightfully points out.
All four students are scholarship holders and aspire to reach to the top universities of the world. They believe in saying the truth even if it means standing in front of the President of the country and telling him where he is going wrong.
In a growing metropolis like Lahore, waste management is a serious problem but when it comes to medical waste the problem becomes more serious. In Mughalpura near Sahuwari area, right amid a populated place, there lies an incinerator of Shalimar Hospital, which is not only polluting the atmosphere with a thick cloud of black smoke it emits on a daily basis, it is also injurious to health and affects fertility of land as bags of wastes are dumped into land.
On one side the hospital is doing great service by collecting waste from different private and government hospitals of the city. As many of the government hospitals of Lahore like Jinnah Hospital, Services Hospital, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital do not have any proper waste management system, the government is paying millions of rupees to Shalimar Hospital which provides them facility to dispose off their garbage by incinerating the waste.
On the other side residents living in the surrounding areas look very tired of it. Not only is the incinerator a cause of various respiratory and skin diseases, it has also brought down property prices in the area to a great extent. “Despite various complaints to district and environment departments the incinerator is working as it was,” says Babar Masih, whose house is adjacent to Shalimar Hospital. “Daily, piles of ash come in our houses during the hours incinerator is burning. The stink it emits is unbearable. We have protested time and again but our efforts go in vain,” Babar told TNS.
Zahid Anjum, former councillor of UC-32 says, “Our team of Nazim Shiekh Ameen, Naib Nazim Ameer Jan Khan and other members lodged a complaint agianst it but nothing was done. “In our locality people can’t sleep on roofs in summer. The incinerator emits colourful smoke complying with the burning material. Live stock in our locality is equally facing the same perils. On the one hand the hospital is curing diseases while on the other side it is spreading diseases,” says Zahid.
Raheela Khadim Hussain, member provincial assembly says, “Shalimar Hospital is a trustee hospital. Its incinerators are working properly. In Lahore there are two medical waste burning plants, one in Shalimar Hospital and the other in Mayo Hospital. Government pays Shalimar Hospital for collecting and burning waste of different government hospitals. Raheela says incinerator has the latest technology and has all the proper system of medical waste management.”
Deputy District Environment Officer Muhammad Younas Zahid says, “We served a notice to Shalimar Hospital but as the hospital is performing an important duty we just warned them and no action was taken.” In Lahore, he says, three commercial incinerators are working which are located in United Christian Hospital (UCH), Children Hospital and Shalimar Hospital. He says few years ago incinerator of Children Hospital was fined Rs. one lakh. Ganga Ram Hospital was fined Rs. 3 lakh and Umer Hospital Rs. 30 thousand.
“Once we received complaint against Shalimar Hospital selling medical garbage. We raided, arrested the culprits but didn’t close it. We issued them a show cause notice and fined the hospital,” he explained further.
He says, “if someone wants to install incinerator, we issue license for three years in Rs.15,000 after confirming that all the precautionary measures and technology are up-to-date. He says Shalimar Hospital does not have a license. “Few years back we shut it down but the hospital has 245 clients who requested us to allow it to work so we granted them permission.”
The solution he suggests is that there should be two meetings every month between waste management team and environment officials. Waste management team should receive recommendations and must implement them at once. Sadly, Shalimar Hospital’s waste management team is yet to be notified. The staff must be kept under strict vigilance. He says after atomic waste, medical waste is the most dangerous. It must be handled carefully; otherwise it can cause epidemic diseases like asthma, skin infections, hepatitis etc.
He says according to the Hospital Waste Management Act 2005 these are the hospitals responsible for waste management, from its generation to incineration.
Junaid Habibullah, who was in-charge of waste management at the Shalimar Hospital till recently and the only Ph.D degree holder in waste management in Pakistan, denies all the allegations of the residents. He says, “We imported the technology from America and our workers are trained. Waste management is done on modern lines. First, we spray special chemicals to kill all the perilous germs and then we burn the waste at 1000 degree centigrade. Everything is burnt in the incinerator, nothing is left on such a high temperature. Ash is also handled very carefully and dumped in the ground. On this high temperature smoke is not produced.”
He says, “We are doing it for nothing. If we don’t do it, medical waste will spread various dangerous diseases. It’s just for noble cause. It’s the responsibility of government but we are doing it and we have requested the government to support us financially as we are doing it for good but to no avail. Every now and then plastic dealers come to us to purchase this waste and offer us heavy amounts but we never sell it.”
Few days ago a raid was conducted by Environment Inspector Yasir Gul Khan on the truck drivers of Shalimar Hospital. Inspector Yasir says, “I personally spied the trucks while going to Lahore Park in Kasur, near a small village in a poultry farm these trucks unloaded the waste material, there I arrested all of them red handed with the help of local police station.”
He says hospital administration suspended all the staff at once and later on, sought the resignation of incharge Junaid Habibullah.
The said incinerator is still working under the supervision of Dr. Mahnoor, also the MS of Shalimar Hospital and the issue of its presence in a populated area is same as it was. She could not be contacted despite repeated phone calls.