Punjab in focus

Daily: The News
Date: 11.10.11

Amid the natural and man-made disasters Pakistan is facing, the PML-N government in
Punjab is clearly failing. The “Khadim-e-Aala,” as Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif likes to be
referred to in his modesty, might be appearing to fight dengue-carrying mosquitoes tooth
and nail but his efforts are too late for infliction of significant harm on them. The right time
for an anti-dengue campaign was before the monsoons started in June and before the
mosquitoes launched their offensive on the residents of Lahore. Precious time was wasted
in wrangling focused on how to topple the central government before the Senate elections
next year.

A limited outbreak had already taken place last year, when doctors warned the provincial
health department of a serious dengue crisis in Lahore this year. The inefficiency and
downright negligence of the government of Punjab has caused the death toll in Punjab
owing to dengue hemorrhagic fever to approach the figure of 200. More than 10,000
people have gone through the agony of the more benign strain of dengue fever. The
disease has attained epidemic proportions and is virtually certain to be out of control unless
the coming winter season tempers the mosquitoes’ ferocity.

Punjab now appears difficult to handle as a single administrative unit. In Punjab,
maldistribution of resources is such that cities and towns other than Lahore are consistently
underdeveloped. Modern-day national planning is not about concentration but
decentralisation of the population, coupled with decentralisation of power and efficient
distribution of resources.

The Punjab government is equally ignorant of the fact that modern town planning
discourages congestion, even in countries where land is scarce. The modern strategy is to
develop new centres of civic life and avoid over-construction on the space already available.

Lahore is a picture of a city engulfing neighbouring towns and villages. Further, all
cultivable land in the suburbs of Lahore has been engulfed by housing societies. The
societies are thriving at the cost of grains such as wheat and rice. Further, the road along
the canal is being widened at the cost of the environment. After the area under plantation
dwindles, the ultimate cost will be paid by the city’s residents in terms of respiratory
diseases.

The unnecessary construction of overhead bridges, for which public or expert opinion has
never been sought, will overload the city with traffic, since increased driving space will
encourage more cars to be brought onto the streets of Lahore. More pollution will be only
one of the consequences.

Punjab should be divided into various administrative units, but not along ethnic lines. Other
cities in Punjab should be developed to discourage further urbanisation of Lahore to
reverse the trend of over constructing the city.

Shahbaz Sharif is infatuated with the idea that only civil servants can run provincial affairs.
In his view, perhaps, the elected local representatives are incapable of doing anything good
for the province. Or he is so impatient he does not want to wait for the grooming of a new
political breed to run local governments properly. The question is, will Shahbaz Sharif
remain chief minister forever? Or is Punjab anyone’s fiefdom?

The fact is that the absence of the local bodies is making people suffer. In fact, people are
being deliberately deprived of a democratic experience at the grassroots level. People are
forced to look to the chief minister’s house to solve every problem they face. If the local
bodies had been in place, at least the anti-mosquito fumigation campaign would have been
quickly launched.

The opportunity should be provided to state institutions such as the local bodies to prosper,
evolve and long-term yield results.

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