Friday, June 6, 2014

Daily Times Editorial June 7, 2014

Out of Lahore Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, often accused during his last and present tenure of unduly favouring the capital of the province Lahore with financial allocations, big projects and development, has finally turned his attention to the relatively underdeveloped region of southern Punjab. On a whirlwind tour of Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Muzaffargarh on Thursday, the chief minister announced a number of decisions and projects that are bound to bring relief and even joy to the people of the area. Hitherto, with the announcement of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus service project (currently under construction), the chief minister was still being castigated for concentrating on the GT Road salient almost exclusively. Now the chief minister has sought to silence his critics by this initiative. Shahbaz Sharif announced that Multan would henceforth be considered in the category of a big city, with government employees thereby enjoying big city allowances. He also announced a metro bus project for the city of 30 kilometres length, costing Rs 30 billion, to be completed in the record time of one year, starting from the laying of its foundation stone on August 14 this year. The project would be constructed on the lines of the Dubai metro bus system. More than 150,000 people per day would benefit from it. Shahbaz Sharif said on the occasion that the sense of deprivation of the people of southern Punjab would be removed through the provision of modern health and educational facilities. In Muzaffargarh the chief minister announced the setting up of the Tayyip Erdogan Hospital (named after the Turkish prime minister), which would be a 500-bed facility. The hospital would become functional this month and Turk doctors and other staff would extend their services to it for one year. Extension work of the hospital would start this year and Rs 2 billion would be set aside in this year’s budget for the purpose. In Dera Ghazi Khan, the chief minister inaugurated the Ghazi Medical College. He also announced the setting up of a Daanish school in Taunsa that would throw open its doors to deserving boys and girls from the region, including students from the tribal areas (there is a provincially administered tribal area in the district). The development of Fort Munro, the only tourist spot in southern Punjab, was also addressed by the chief minister after a briefing on the project. Shahbaz Sharif ordered the installation of a chairlift and cable car service in two phases. The road from Muzaffargarh to Fort Munro would be expanded to a dual carriageway. In sum, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has brought his phenomenal energy and hardworking style to addressing the problems and sense of deprivation of the southern reaches of Punjab. It may be recalled that that sense of deprivation has led from time to time to the demand for a separate South Punjab province or its variant, two provinces of South Punjab and Bahawalpur. These variegated demands at various times since the provinces were restored in what was then West Pakistan in 1970, have essentially reflected the resentment of the people of this underdeveloped region at the neglect they blamed ‘Takht Lahore’ (the Lahore throne) for. Multan is arguably one of the oldest living cities in the country, with a rich culture and history, including a track record of pushing back against domination from Takht Lahore. It is indeed a welcome development and a sign of the political wisdom of the Punjab government that it has met head on the complaints of southern Punjab and the chief minister has promised more to the people of the region than they can even dream of. Dreams and hope are what can keep people’s faith in governments and the future alive. Now observers will keenly watch a process of development that could be a life and game changer for the hitherto neglected Lahenda (southern, downward sloping) area of Punjab, with the accusation of concentration solely on central Punjab becoming history.

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