Harnessing South Punjab potential for scoio-economic uplift

MULTAN, Jul 21 (APP): Uniformity in dispensation of basic amenities and socio-economic development is basic right of people in every country regardless of urban rural and caste and creed divides.

Rulers and policy makers keep these obligations in sight when formulating plans and defining projects to ensure equitable progress of their people and providing level playing field for all stakeholders mattering for economic stability.

But despite efforts this uniformity lacks in most of the countries and Pakistan is also not en exception to this phenomenon. Many of its remote and far flung areas lag behind in development activities thus making people suffer in these regions as compared to those living in developed areas.

Country’s South Punjab region comprising 11 districts and hosting 35 million population is also an example even last 15 years efforts for socio-economic uplift, Human Development Index (HDI) could not come at par with developed areas.

No doubt that Former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani during his tenure (2013-18) initiated projects like eight flyovers in Multan city, Multan International Airport, Head Muhammadwala Bridge, Jalalpur Pirwala Bridge, COMSATS University Vehari and many more projects.

Similarly, former Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif led federal government and the then Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif during 2018-23 facilitated South Punjab people with Metro Bus Service, Shahbaz Sharif Hospital, Nawaz Sharif University of Agriculture and University of Engineering.

Then PTI government followed the suit by starting work on South Punjab Secretariat. An Additional Chief Secretary was deputed in the region and offices of 16 provincial ministries were established in Multan and Bahawalpur.

Work on Nishtar-II and Mother and Child Care Hospitals in different cities was also started although residents feel there much more was needed to be done.

“Despite all these initiatives, the region is still backward and requires many more uplift projects to bring it at par with developed parts of the province,” said Chairman Young Pakistanis Organization (NGO), Naeem Iqbal Naeem.

“The government should focus more on health, education, agriculture and livestock to improve living standards of people in the region,” he stated. “Our region also lags behind in terms of industrialization with having only 15% industry and employing 17% local people.”

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report issued during February 2022, 45% people in south Punjab lack sanitation facilities, 19% teenagers are engaged in child labor, per hour labor income is Rs 65 while 43 infants out of 1000 die at the time of birth and 39% kids face the challenge of stunted growth.

Keeping in view these challenges, the present PML-N government in Punjab in its annual budget for year 2022-23 has allocated Rs 240 billion as compared to Rs 186 billion development budget of the PTI government last year.

“This amount is 35% of the total development budget allocated for all over Punjab province and would be spent on 2009 uplift projects in South Punjab including 1548 on-going and 461 new projects,” said Additional Chief Secretary South Punjab Saqib Zafar.

“These funds would be spent on improving roads infrastructure, health and education and other public welfare oriented projects,” he said and informed that during 2021-22, the South Punjab administration spent Rs 181 billion out of total Rs 186 billion development budget making 97% of the total allocation.

According to Planning and Development department of the South Punjab, currently the work is underway on Cardiology Institute Multan; Cardiology Institute Dera Ghazi Khan; Mother and Child Healthcare in Multan, Layyah, Bahawalnagar, DG Khan and Rajanpur; construction/extension of Khawaja Fareed University, Nishtar-II, Shiekh Zaid Hospital-II, Seven Storey Parking Plaza for 1000 vehicles at District Bar Multan, Dualization of Vehari-Multan road, Establishment of Mir Chakir Khan Rind University of Technology in DG Khan, Sorra Dam, Multan Ring Road, Construction of Building at Ghazi University DG Khan, 2nd Phase of building of Khawaja Ghulam Fareed University of Engineering, Information and Technology, Dualization of road from Uch Sharif to Ahmed Pur East, Dualization of Kehror Pakka-Mailsi-Vehari road, development of Bahawalpur Industrial Estate and many other uplift projects.

The government has also allocated Rs 9,140 million for production sector including agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock to start 100 schemes for improving financial condition of peasants. However, the farmer community desired more allocations to fully benefit from agriculture and livestock potential in the region.

“Agriculture and associated businesses is mainstay of our economy. Therefore, the government should allocate more amounts to fully harness the potential of agriculture sector in South Punjab,” said Laique Shiekhna, a progressive farmer. He also proposed to focus on value addition of different crops, fruits and vegetables to increase produce and export of these commodities to benefit local framers as well as earning much needed foreign exchange.

Shahid Hameed Bhutta, a mango grower has also drawn attention of the government towards promoting agriculture economy to benefit 77% rural population of the region.

“We need to promote agro based economy by strengthening associated sectors like livestock, fruits, vegetables, cash crops and value addition to present products,” he said and hoped, such measures would help us meet local food needs as well as capture more space in international export market.

(APP Feature Service)

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